MMA: Michihiro Omigawa
TOKYO -- Nearly 14 years after its debut in the country, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will finally return to Japan.
In a Tuesday news conference at Shinjuku Wald 9 Theater -- the same locale used to screen UFC Live and Fight Night events on the big screen -- the UFC formally announced their plans to bring the Octagon back to the Land of the Rising Sun on Feb. 26, 2012.
While a November timeframe was announced for card finalization, all of the Japanese fighters currently on Zuffa roster -- presently, Yushin Okami, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Norifumi Yamamoto, Hatsu Hioki, Michihiro Omigawa, Takanori Gomi, Riki Fukuda, and Takeya Mizugaki -- were mentioned as likely participants for the event. The UFC will also be aiming for the heart of major-scale MMA in the country by staging the event at the Saitama Super Arena, frequent home to Dream and the defunct Pride Fighting Championships, which will be scaled to accommodate 20,000 seats.
News of the Japan return was delivered via a recorded video message from UFC President Dana White, who expounded on Japan's role in developing the sport and contributing some of its biggest names in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Dan Henderson, and Mirko Filipovic.
Following White’s address, Zuffa LLC Asia Executive Vice President and Managing Director Mark Fischer addressed those in attendance.
“We want to let everyone know that we will be bringing the same high level of UFC competition, the same world class show and presentation, and great fights and the greatest athletes in the world to Japan.”
A 12-year veteran in spearheading the NBA's expansion in Asia, Fischer noted the economic potential for a UFC Japan show.
“To give another idea of the scope of this event, it will literally be witnessed by millions of fans all over the world,” said Fischer. “Moreover, this event will be a boon for Japan's economy. For example, UFC 100 in Las Vegas generated more than $51 million for the local economy. In Sydney, Australia, our two events generated over $30 million for the local economy. We're pleased to bring the similarly anticipated event to Saitama and the greater Tokyo area.”
Fischer also stated that UFC events in Japan and the Asia region would become regular destinations for the promotion.
“Let me also say that while UFC Japan in 2012 will be the first event for Zuffa in Asia, it certainly won't be the last. We hope to make UFC Japan an annual fixture on our calendar and we also have plans to follow-up with a series of high quality events across Asia,” assured Fischer.
While there were no announcement as to whether the event would be a numbered or “Fight Night” event, it is planned to start in the same Saturday night time slot for Western viewers. Preliminaries are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Japan time, with the main card running from noon to 3 p.m. No details were given as to the event's local broadcast plans.
The UFC’s debut in the country was on December 21, 1997 for the “Ultimate Japan” heavyweight tournament, which saw the UFC debut of Pride legend Kazushi Sakuraba and former UFC light heavyweight champion Frank Shamrock. The SEG-era UFC saw two more events in Japan with UFC 23 and UFC 25, in November 1999 and April 2000 respectively.