by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
In recent months, the UFC has given a spate of high profile Japanese competitors the VIP treatment, fueling speculation of major signings on the Las Vegas promotion’s horizon.
Chief among those competitors to take in the UFC experience was Satoshi Ishii, the 22 year-old gold medal winner in Judo at the 2008 Olympic Games. In December, he brought the dismay of FEG head Sadaharu Tanigawa when he announced his intention to sign with the UFC after fielding a multi-million dollar offer to fight in Japan on New Year’s Eve.
“It’s unfortunate that the man with the Japanese MMA world on his shoulders is going abroad,” Tanigawa told Japanese media in response to the news.
Now, it appears Ishii might have re-considered his deal with FEG. In a recent interview with the media following UFC 94, UFC president Dana White confirmed that while he had indeed signed Ishii to a deal, he was unsure if the Japanese star would fulfill it.
“The thing is this: the kid’s sitting on a lottery ticket right now,” said White. “He’s being offered millions of dollars in Japan. They want him. He has to make a decision whether he wants to take the lottery ticket or come over here and work his way up and try to become the best.”
Not surprisingly, White said there was a fundamental difference between the promotional styles of the UFC and FEG.
“I don’t believe in the Japanese philosophy, let’s throw him in there and get him (expletive) murdered like Sakuraba,” he spat. “You know, the whole guts and glory thing over in Japan. I believe in taking a kid, putting him in the right weight class, moving him up, and taking time.
“If he does it the right way with us, he’ll be a superstar in Japan. It’s a much better deal for him than going in and getting executed by guys who have been fighting for a long time…because they need to make a fight right now so they can survive. See, Dream—needs him. I don’t. I want him.”
White also wants Japanese star Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, who palled around with the outspoken president in the days around UFC 94. Though Yamamoto is currently on the disabled list with a knee injury, White says the K-1 and told him he wants to end his career in the Octagon—at least, the smaller one—of the WEC.
Yamamoto may participate in the second round of Dream’s upcoming featherweight tournament—an event built around him—if the promotion gives him a bye to the second round scheduled for May.
According to White, “Kid” has two fights left on his deal with FEG, and when those are done, fans can expect to see him make his WEC debut in the bantamweight division.
“We’d bring him in and give him a fight first, and then if he wins that fight, we’d let him fight Miguel (Torres),” said White.
White also says he’s in talks with UFC veteran Caol Uno, but nothing has been solidified.
As for Ishii’s decision, White—in a perhaps uncharacteristic display of contractual tolerance—said he would be willing to release the Judoka if he wanted so.
“Well, yeah, I’m going to hold on to him, I’ve got a contract with him,” White began. “But if he comes back and tells me I want to take this lottery ticket, I’ll give it to him. He needs to decide what he wants to do with his life. Just because I have a contract with him, I’m not going to try to tell him what he should do with his life. I’ve sat down and I’ve talked to him for hours on what I think he should do with his career. Now it’s up to him. You can’t force anybody to be a mixed martial arts fighter, they have to want to do it.”