With UFC 144 going down this Saturday, one of the most interesting storylines of the event is the promotion's ability to succeed in Japan. Zach Arnold at Fight Opinion has much better insight into the Japanese market than most in the MMA media and wrote a very interesting article on the five best questions to look at heading into the event.
The first point deals with the UFC's ultimate upside trying to run this show:
1. Will the crowd for this show represent a floor or a ceiling for UFC & Dentsu?
I am of two thoughts here.
First, the positive take and one that UFC argues. They run a good show, they get a few backers, and then through repetition hope that some rich people who aren't yakuza buy into what they are doing.
Second, the negative take and more realistic viewpoint. The Japanese MMA industry on a mainstream level is dead. There are no major Japanese stars being created now. Kid Yamamoto, Gomi, and the rest are a dying breed. Once they are gone, the replacements have nowhere near the same name value. That's the great irony about UFC's predicament here. They want to build something up in Japan but the local promoters that they weren't friendly with basically torched the business to the ground.
If Dentsu is able to get UFC onto television, perhaps they have a shot - albeit a small shot. The UFC product is not tailored for Japanese cultural wants or needs. There aren't major Japanese players right now in the divisions sans Hatsu Hioki and Hioki's not a major star in his home country. The plan was to broker some time on TV Tokyo, the smallest of the over-the-air networks in Japan, and then try to parlay that onto a bigger network like Tokyo Broadcasting System or Fuji TV. The major problem with that strategy is that UFC is not a Japanese company and the TV suits have no desire to touch MMA right now because the police are on the warpath against the gangs. We know the history of black money in the Japanese fight game. It resembles Mexico in many regards.
Zach also talks a lot about the long-term disconnect between the Japanese fighters the UFC views as draws versus those who actually are major hometown draws. It's a very interesting piece and one I suggest you give a read to really understand what this all means both in the short and long term.
It's not all doom and gloom, but there certainly are many more hurdles to succeeding as an MMA promotion in Japan than just about any other market around the world.