Uno to UFC = First Shot in New UFC-Japan War?

This Fan Post was promoted to the front page by Nick Thomas.

If this report from MMAJunkie is true, it appears Caol Uno is about to walk away from DREAM and sign a contract with the UFC. Aside from Denis Kang, who is a reclamation project, to put it nicely, this is the first high profile acquisition of talent from Fighting Entertainment Group's MMA promotion by Zuffa. Though not an "A" level star for them like CroCop or Kid Yamamoto, he is a complimentary draw who is popular with the DREAM fans.

Speaking of the fans, take a look at the proposed UFC 99 card:

B.J. Penn vs. Kenny Florian
Wanderlei Silva vs. Rich Franklin
Mirko CroCop vs. TBA
Caol Uno vs. Spencer Fisher

B.J. Penn fought in the early iterations of K-1's MMA events when the brand was still hot, plus Wanderlei Silva and CroCop were two of the biggest PRIDE stars for half a decade. This card would appeal more to Japanese fans than Americans. And considering Uno's history with Penn and the original UFC Lightweight title, not to mention his experience advantage over every other lightweight under the Zuffa umbrella, I wouldn't be shocked if Penn-Uno III is on the minds of Dana White and Joe Silva.

I believe the UFC is now making the first tangible steps on a path back to hosting live events in Japan, starting as soon as the second half of this year.

First of all, Dana gave this piece of news to the Japanese press in September of 2008:

UFC will be taking its show to Japan from the summer of next year.

It was announced they will be holding a show in the Phillipines next spring, and from there, UFC Japan will make its return. The last UFC event in Japan was in December of 2000.

Dana White said that if the summer Japan show is a success, they plan to hold a regular series of events in Japan.

Now, obviously that show in the Phillipines hasn't materialized yet, but UFC typically is a little behind schedule on the foreign events, so I still think a show in Japan can happen in 2009. When asked about their plans after UFC 94, White seemed pretty determined to make it happen:

It has been over eight years since the UFC last visited the "Land of the Rising Sun," but UFC President Dana White made it very clear at the UFC 94 post-event press conference that Japan is still very much a part of the organization's future.

"The Japanese market has always been important to me," White said. "It's a very, very, very tough place to navigate and do business. But, [expletive] 'em. We're going to do it anyway. They will not stop me from going into Japan."

He goes on to mention Caol Uno, Kid Yamamoto and Satoshi Ishii as three of the names at the top of his list to acquire from the Japanese Talent pool. But Kid and Ishii are far tougher nuts to crack than a mid-card fighter like Uno.

Satoshi Ishii is bound to make hundreds of thousands of dollars alone in sponsorships fighting in Japan. Despite his obvious and open courting by the UFC, all he signed was an exclusive negotiation agreement of unknown length. With DREAM offering him millions to sign with them, Zuffa faces an uphill battle.

Kid Yamamoto is similarly out of reach, though now he is supposedly a problem for some of the sponsors due to his alleged participation in hedonistic "pot parties" (seriously) and may need a cooling-off period.

For the UFC, sustaining a roster of top-flight Japanese stars and picking them off from DREAM (or Sengoku) can only happen if they either overpay like hell to make up for lost sponsorship opportunities, or run live events in Japan on a consistent basis in front of a large TV audience.

Right now, their TV deal with subscription-based service WOWOW does very little for them. Though there is a pay-per-view service called SkyPerfecTV that carries DREAM and Sengoku events, it is not a particularly popular or lurcrative option. The real dollars are to be had in major sponsorship for events televised on the major networks. K-1 shows are aired on Fuji TV and DREAM shows on Tokyo Broadcasting Station, which could be likened to the CBS and NBC of Japan. Sengoku events have all been aired on PPV, but they recently secured a TV deal with one of the lesser networks, TV Tokyo.

It could be argued that even with a tape delay of 12 hours or more, UFC could just have the shows in Japan and still do good business on the PPV, but the Zuffa brass know where the money is in that market. If they're really serious about making inroads, a deal with one of the six major networks is the ultimate goal, and it remains to be seen how well they will be accepted into the MMA landscape after the debacle that was the PRIDE purchase. It could take a lot of time and money to achieve any measure of success in the marketplace. Nevertheless, it looks like the UFC is going to take a crack at it.

Interestingly enough, DREAM may take the fight to the UFC to strike the first blow. The mysterious October DREAM 12 event has three candidate destinations: Australia, Korea... and the United States. K-1 has an annual tournament in Las Vegas, so it is not unreasonable to suggest we might see DREAM at the Thomas and Mack Center less than three years after the acclaimed PRIDE 33 event brought the house down.

It will be interesting to see how the paths of American and Japanese MMA cross this year, to say the least.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.