The UFC's top Japanese fighters: Riki Fukuda, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Michihiro Omigawa and Yushin Okami via MMA Junkie.
We posted a day or two ago about UFC President Dana White's comments that the promotion is planning a return to Japan in the near future. The Japanese MMA scene has utterly collapsed in the last four years since the fall of Pride Fighting Championships -- which was actually purchased by the UFC. That merger ended in disaster and the end of Pride FC.
Since then, K-1's Dream and World Victory Road's Sengoku have both vied to be Japan's major MMA promotion to no avail.
It's a major bummer for fans East and West who fondly recall the 1997-2007 era when Japan was at the center of the MMA world, putting on the biggest events, starring the best fighters. The UFC even held a few events in Japan around the turn of the century in a desperate attempt to escape the "Dark Ages" when MMA was effectively banned in the U.S.
MMA Weekly has more on the UFC's plans to return:
According to sources speaking to MMAWeekly.com on Sunday, UFC officials are looking at a Feb. 26, 2012, date in Japan with the show currently targeted for the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama.
While the venue has been reserved by agencies working with Zuffa in Japan, this is still just the preliminary location they are focusing on for a return to Japan. Other venues and locations are being looked at, but Saitama Super Arena is currently the most likely landing spot.
UFC executive vice president Mark Fischer, who was hired in 2010 to lead Zuffa's charge into Asia, is currently working to secure a finalized date and venue for the event.
Sources have indicated that Fischer is in contact with several Japanese promoters who have put on shows there before to help smooth the way for a UFC produced card.
It will be essential for the UFC to have an effective Japanese partner to navigate the complicated political and cultural waters in Japan.
The UFC has aggressively signed Japanese talent in recent years and the roster currently includes several fighters who are still very high profile in Japan: Yoshihiro Akiyama, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, and Takanori Gomi. Middleweight Yushin Okami is relatively unknown in his native country, but if he wins his title shot against Anderson Silva at UFC 134, he'll become much more marketable in Japan.