They couldn’t do it under the Pride banner, and have thus far been unable to do it under the UFC banner.
The UFC has, however, been successful luring many top fighters from Japan to the United States. Along with Pride notables like Wanderlei Silva, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, UFC officials have signed top Asian talents such as Yushin Okami and Yoshihiro Akiyama.
The UFC’s little brother, the WEC, has also been successful luring many talented fighters from Japan and other parts of Asia, but some of the superstar talent in Japan’s lighter weight classes has still eluded the Zuffa-owned promotion.
Now that the two are merging under the juggernaut brand that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship, will the dominos finally fall for even more of the premier fighters of Asia to sign on?
“Yeah, I definitely think it’s possible and I know that we are actively working on that as we speak,” said WEC general manager Reed Harris on Tuesday.
“There’s a number of guys I’m keeping my eye on, but I wouldn’t discuss that until obviously we’ve signed them. But yeah, we’re looking at a lot of guys overseas, not only in Japan, but in a number of countries to bring into our divisions and just to make them all that more exciting.”
The WEC was Harris’ baby. He grew it as a regional promotion in Northern California before Zuffa bought him and partner Scott Adams out in late 2006. Harris has been the figurehead of the promotion since it narrowed its focus on the lighter weight classes. He’s especially proud of the bantamweights and featherweights, the two divisions that had no crossover with the UFC.
“I see the future of the bantamweights and featherweights really becoming some of the most exciting divisions in the UFC,” Harris stated proudly. “When people come to watch the WEC shows, they’ve always left feeling like that you know these guys gave it everything they had and the fights were some of the most exciting fights in the business.
“So I think that you know within a year guys like (WEC champions) Dominick (Cruz), Ben (Henderson), and Jose Aldo, these guys are going to be household names just like the UFC guys are and I think we have a really bright future ahead of us for these divisions.”