The mixed martial arts scene in Japan isn’t what it used to be.
There was a time when Pride Fighting Championships was considered the pinnacle of combat sports, but those days are history and only mentioned when mixed martial arts fans get nostalgic.
The UFC returns to Japan on Feb. 26. Former Pride contender and former UFC light heavyweight titleholder Quinton “Rampage” Jackson believes the UFC bringing its product to Japan could kick start the sport’s revival in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Today, the MMA landscape is far from what it used to be in Japan. Pride was purchased by Zuffa LLC, parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2007, and eventually shuttered. Fighters began to complain in recent years that the Japanese-based Dream organization wasn’t paying the athletes for months following events, and some may have never been paid.
Hard times fell on MMA in Japan, but the UFC’s return trip for the first time in nearly twelve years with UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson could breathe life into the struggling Japanese MMA scene. Jackson believes the UFC’s return could revive the once thriving mixed martial arts market there.
“I think the crowd would be really happy just to have some mixed martial arts going on over there,” Jackson said recently. “I heard a little buzz when I was there doing some media that everybody was waiting for the fight. They’ll be really excited. They can’t wait for the UFC to come there.”
The Japanese fan base is considerably different than the U.S. audience. In no other country is martial arts more engrained into the culture.
Jackson feels that if any organization can bring MMA in Japan back to its glory days, it’s the UFC.
“Yes, I think if anybody has a chance, it’s the UFC because they have little small shows there and everything, but UFC is the biggest show on the planet right now,” he said.
“I remember back in the day, (Pride) was the biggest show, but UFC has surpassed them. I think if anybody has a chance, it’s the UFC.”
Having fought at the elite level in the U.S. and Japan, Jackson discussed the differences between Japanese matchmaking compared to the matchmaking in the UFC. Jackson chose his words carefully when asked about the differences between matchmaking in America compared to the Pride model of putting bouts together.
“I think that Pride had the matchmaking to get exciting fights. I don’t think people understand. Like in America, everybody is always worried about who’s going to win and who’s winning. It isn’t all about that – its entertainment at the end of the day,” he said.
“The fans want to see an entertaining fight and the fans got that. In America, I don’t think we have that yet. We are still years behind the Japanese fans and the people that watch fights. That’s my opinion.”
No one can complain about the matchmaking that put together the UFC 144 fight card, but the athletes still have to perform and entertain. Jackson plans on doing his part.
“If I have anything to do with it, I’m going to go there and fight my heart out and put on a big show. I’ll try to put on the most exciting fight that the fans have ever seen so maybe they’ll want to have the UFC come back.”