Once Pride elite, three of these five men now fight for the UFC. Photo by Stephen Martinez for Sherdog.com
From England to Abu Dhabi to next month's UFC in Brazil, the UFC has made international expansion a large part of their business model over the last couple of years. With the purchase of Pride in 2007, many expected the UFC to make a move into Japan, if not continue to run Pride shows. Unfortunately, it's not easy for American companies, especially those that have taken over Japanese companies, to do business in Japan, and the idea was filed away.
MMA Junkie reports that interest is back on:
"The rumor is true," said White, who couldn't given any exact details on a date or host venue. "We're going to come to Japan, and probably soon."
Just how soon?
"This year," he said.
It's an interesting time for MMA in Japan. Dream and Sengoku are both on life support, if not dead, and Shooto is in a state of chaos.
What the UFC has going for them is a roster full of old Pride/K-1 stars: Wanderlei Silva, Takanori Gomi, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Filipovic, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Norifumi Yamamoto. Fedor Emelianenko fights for sister promotion Strikeforce, though finagling a deal similar to Nick Diaz's recent move to the UFC may be complicated by the presence of M-1 Global.
The UFC last ran a show in Japan in December of 2000, when Tito Ortiz defended his light heavyweight title in Tokyo against the timeless Yuki Kondo. Earlier that year, Ortiz had defended his title against rising Pride star Wanderlei Silva, also in Tokyo.
Of the four shows the UFC ran in Japan, the first was probably the most historic. Held in Yokohama in December of 1997, Ultimate Japan 1 saw Frank Shamrock armbar Kevin Jackson in 16 seconds to become the inaugural middleweight (later light heavyweight) champion, Randy Couture outlasted Maurice Smith to win the heavyweight title, and Kazushi Sakuraba emerged as an MMA star when he (with some controversy) won a four-man heavyweight tournament despite weighing 183 pounds.