UFC stacking upcoming Saitama card with hometown talent

Esther Lin/MMA Fighting

The UFC's upcoming return to Saitama looks like it's slated to feature a wealth of Japanese fan favorites.

Last time the UFC came to Japan, it was for UFC on Fuel TV: Silva vs. Stann. It was a great fight card, that featured a lot of fighters from the Land of the Rising Sun. But, by far the biggest fan favorite names on the card were Wanderlei Silva and Mark Hunt. Both very popular in Japan from their Pride heydays, but not quite "hometown" stars. This time around it looks like the UFC is going to stack the deck as much as possible, to feature both longtime and new Japanese talent. Of course Mark Hunt will still be there, headlining the show, but MMA Fighting reveals that the UFC is has booked a few of their dormant stars as well.

While their opponents haven't been publicly released as of yet, the Dave Meltzer reports that Norifumi Yamamoto, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Takanori Gomi have all been targeted for the Saitama show on September 20th. "Kid" Yamamoto hasn't competed since UFC 144 in 2012 when he dropped a submission loss to Vaughan Lee, his third straight loss in the UFC. Since then he's been dealing with a variety of injuries, having scrapped a fight with Ivan Menjivar at UFC 165 in the interim. He's also been focusing more and more on the coaching side of his career, currently guiding young phenom Kyoji Horiguchi through his UFC career. Speaking of which, Horiguchi has also been slated to take on Chris Cariaso on the same card.

When it comes to Japanese fighters recovering from long layoffs, Yoshihiro Akiyama is bang alongside Yamamoto. Also sidelined since UFC 144 in February of 2012, Akiyama hasn't competed since dropping a unanimous decision to Jake Shields, his fourth straight loss. He was briefly scheduled to fight Thiago Alves at UFC 149, in a battle that was basically doomed from the start to get bitten by the injury bug. He's been dealing with a knee injury since then, and with the devastating effects of sexlexia.

And finally, Takenori Gomi makes his not nearly as long awaited return, as he's coming off a narrow decision over Isaac Vallie-Flagg at UFC 172 back in April. Of all the Japanese old guard, Gomi has fared the best of late and really should be on a four fight win streak stretching back to 2012. However, it has to be said that he looked in pretty poor condition for his bout against IVF.

All told, with the recent signing of Rin Nakai, and the attempted booking of Tatsuya Kawajiri (who was forced out due to a torn retina) it appears that the UFC is really trying to stack their Saitama card with as many big name Japanese fighters as possible. Hopefully the card holds up over the next couple months.

UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Nelson takes place on September 20th in Saitama Japan, here's a look at the current card:

Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson
Rin Nakai vs. Miesha Tate
Chris Cariaso vs. Kyoji Horiguchi
Shogun Rua vs. Jan Blachowicz (rumored)
Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. TBA
Norifumi Yamamoto vs. TBA
Takenori Gomi vs. TBA

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