MMA in Japan

In Japan, MMA and kickboxing are popular sports that are heavily covered by the media. But English-speaking fight fans do not have access to all this information. Some Americans try to report news from Japan, but they have language problems sometimes or they are not telling all sides of the story. This blog will give fans some of those news reports, and some observations too.


Shukan Gendai at it again: Yokozuna Asashoryu

Shukan Gendai, the weekly tabloid magazine which started the DSE controversy and provided most of the content for some reporters for the entire year of 2006, seems to be back to the same tricks. This time, Shukan Gendai is publishing an article accusing Asashoryu, the only grand champion in sumo today, of yaocho (match-fixing).

After Shukan Gendai waged a kind of successful war against DSE and Fuji TV, it tried to raise a little bit of trouble against the boxing Kameda brothers. However, these attacks ended very quickly, maybe due to the pressure from TBS channel, which is linked by shareholdings to Shukan Gendai's parent company, Kodansha.

Many months passed between the Kameda stories and this one about sumo. Many people think that Shukan Gendai was trying very hard to find other negative stories in martial arts. For example, they were very close to trying to write article about the rumor of homosexual preferences among a number of the top officials in the martial arts promotions. They did not do this story, or maybe they are still working on it. Anyway, it is not in the good taste, I think.

To the naked eye, Asashoryu is the best technical wrestler and most dominant champion in sumo world today. Could that image be a fake? Maybe on the other hand, a cynical person would say that this tabloid magazine has run out of any other ideas how to sell more copies, except to do these expose articles in fighting sports.


Ishida returns Shooto belt

Ishida Mitsuhiro, one of the breakout stars in MMA in 2006, returned his Shooto Pacific Rim Welterweight champion belt today. The rules prevent Ishida from fighting for 60 days following his KO loss at Otoko Matsuri, so Ishida cannot fight on the February 17 supercard at Pacifico Yokohama.

This was already reported at, but they made a mistake by writing that Ishida returned the Shooto Welterweight belt, not the Pacific Rim one. Of course, Ishida never had the Welterweight belt. That belt belongs to his teammate, Kawajiri Tatsuya.

Speaking of Kawajiri, now that it is past I can say that Shooto had raised the possibility of a super-fight between him and Aoki Shinya last year. This discussion was preliminary only and discussed behind closed doors. It would have been scheduled for the huge Champion Carnival event held at the same Pacifico in October. At the time, there was some concern that the fight might endanger the star power of Aoki if Kawajiri won. Style against style, Kawajiri is very tough against people like Aoki type. But after seeing the tough fight between Kawajiri and Melendez (which I still think Kawajiri won by a little bit, but maybe I am thinking too much Shooto scoring) and how much Aoki has improved so quickly, maybe the people were worried too much about the wrong fighter.


Fallout from Sakuraba x Akiyama

On January 11, FEG held a press conference to announce that Sakuraba x Akiyama would be ruled a no-contest, instead of the non-referee executive stoppage victory for Akiyama that everyone saw on TV on New Year's Eve.

FEG said that television footage revealed the slick substance that Sakuraba may have been complaining about. Akiyama said that the substance was just a skin cream, not vaseline or any other oily material that he knew to be forbidden by the rules.

As for the mysterious glove, it was explained at the press conference that the logo tends to fall off easily, and Akiyama must have lost it while warming up.

This is all FEG's official explanation. Of course, fight fans are not obligated to believe everything.


It seems that many American fight fans have not heard too much about the glove debate. To summarize, several observers in Japan have identified photographs or television stills that suggest that Akiyama's right glove (if not both) was larger than the official, standard glove. Some have argued that the glove was stretched out, or that a different glove was used to begin with, that contained sufficient space for Akiyama to "enhance" the glove. The pictures posted by Burning Spirit are interesting especially, although I think the brass knuckles are overboard. See also this crazy website. In any case, it was very possible for Akiyama to have had a cast-style wrap on his knuckles underneath the glove.

What about the logo falling off? It seems there were 10 Hero's rules matches on Dynamite, and to my knowledge all 9 victors who had their hands raised managed to keep the logo on not one, but both gloves. That's exactly what Edwin, the logo sponsor, is paying for after all. In fact, all 10 losers of those matches managed to keep the logo on their gloves too. So besides Akiyama, at least most of the other 19 fighters must have warmed up and then fought with the FEG-issued gloves that night, but not 1 of the 19 lost a glove logo in doing so. Perhaps those logos don't fall off as easily as they indicated in the press conference.


If my memory is correct, Tanigawa first indicated that FEG would reconsider the Sakuraba x Akiyama ruling in his conversation with reporters on January 8. The FEG meeting was scheduled for January 10. Sportsnavi reported Tanigawa's January 8 comments on the same day. Daily Sports reported them on January 9. But Tanigawa supposedly told the media not to talk about this issue.

Afterwards, the articles at Sportsnavi, Daily Sports, and every other media outlet disappeared. This happened due to pressure and a strong reprimand from Tanigawa and FEG, according to most sources. Was it right for Tanigawa to impose such conditions on the press?


Another set of problems center around Umeki, the referee of the Sakuraba x Akiyama fight. Umeki has been a referee for a very long time, with Pancrase, kickboxing, etc. The question about Umeki, like with Okabayashi in Sakuraba x Smirnovas, is whether he was under orders to do something, or to guide the fight in a certain way.

Umeki did not help things by the way he handled his personal blog. In a blog post from about 1 week before Dynamite, Umeki said that he returned late to home after a "referee camera test" for Dynamite and luxurious Korean dinner. He does not live in Tokyo, so he was given a taxi voucher to cover the more than $100 USD fare. Of course, he was not specific about who paid for his food and drinks and taxi, and nothing about what was talked about over dinner. To make things worse, when angry fans hijacked his blog by writing comment after comment, Umeki deleted this earlier blog post. The original post did not look "clean" to begin with, but Umeki probably made it look more incriminating by getting rid of it.

There was an old post on his blog too about getting a friend's TV for free, and that this would be the first time he has a TV in his apartment. Sometimes I agree that TV is bad and makes you stupid, but in this modern age, it's hard to imagine that someone does not have a TV at home. Besides, doesn't he have to watch videos once in a while as a referee, or even as a fan of fighting? Many of his blog hijackers conclude that referees must not get paid too much money. Are poorer people more vulnerable to bribes?


New Year's Eve 2006

UPDATE (2007-01-09)

Sorry for not being able to update until now. First I was away from computers to visit my family during holidays, then I get very busy at work.

I woke up on New Year's day and a lot of news had traveled overnight, some of it to my mobile phone email, about the Sakuraba x Akiyama match. As you probably all know by now, there was controversy about Akiyama applying a slippery substance to his body. This was the reason for Sakuraba's strange behavior, i.e., trying to signal the referee for a time-out during the fight. It could also partly explain why Sakuraba's legendary single leg tackles seemed so hopeless.

Don't forget that Akiyama came into the ring and was checked with his dogi on. He said something about leaving it up to "inspiration" to determine whether to fight with the dogi on or not. Akiyama did not take off his dogi until just seconds before the fight started. And then curiously, after the fight he could not seem to jump back into his dogi quickly enough.

The complaints led K-1 to double-check Akiyama's body after the fight, and they said they found nothing. But would you really expect them to say anything else?

Sakuraba is not a fighter who makes excuses for his losses, even when it is clear that he is at a disadvantage or is the victim of a foul. For example, everybody saw Ricardo Arona push his thumb into the wound above Sakuraba's eye, but Sakuraba did not say anything about this. (Of course, he does complain about things he really thinks is unfair sometimes, like Conan Silveira fight or his comments under his breath about Silva long time ago.)

When you think about it further, though, the accusations against Akiyama are not really surprising. Akiyama was accused of cheating in a similar way on many occasions in his judo career. Other observers in Japan have started making remarks about Akiyama's gloves being different from the standard issue one worn by all other fighters at K-1 Dynamite. At some point, though, it becomes difficult to tell between criticisms and analyses made by real fight fans who are interested in fairness, on one hand, versus those made by the many Japanese people who still have xenophobic suspicions against Akiyama for his Korean heritage.

It is a shame, though. Akiyama would probably have won anyway with his youth, strength and balance. Now the best outcome we could get is a horrible rematch. And if Sakuraba somehow wins that one, get ready for a rubber match at Dynamite 2007. You can imagine all the dollar signs in the eyes of mentally challenged Tanigawa.

PREVIOUS POST (2006-12-31)

I just got back home from PRIDE Otoko Matsuri and some soba. On my HDD recorder, I just watched Sakuraba x Akiyama twice quickly. That was a very strange fight. A few days ago, I made my first post on a MMA forum in a long time. I talked about the possibility that Sakuraba would throw his fight to put over Akiyama.

Sakuraba lacked basic ground smarts. He did not push off Akiyama during the ground and pound, even though Sakuraba's feet were conveniently on Akiyama's hips. He also took a lot of punishment without trying to improve position. These two things together kind of smell like a work. Taking that kind of punishment seemed especially like a pro wrestling-style work.

If it wasn't a work, then Sakuraba was not even in condition to be in the ring in the first place. Of course, most people think he is too far past his prime and too weak against his rivals to compete, but that's not what I mean. I mean that his health, even his mental health, is too poor to put him in fighting situations. At one point after getting up from a bad single leg tackle he attempted on Akiyama, Sakuraba signaled for a time-out! Well, for his time-out singal, Sakuraba got no acknowledgement from the referee, and only a punch flurry from Akiyama. This man is a extremely experienced MMA fighter. Of all people, he should know that he can't signal for a time-out in a vale tudo match. Sakuraba's brain might be so gone at this point that perhaps he momentarily thought he was only in a practice session.

(In case you're wondering, I also put the video on rewind to see if there was a low blow by Akiyama or something right before Sakuraba signaled for the time-out. Nothing there.)

Anyway, I will write more next year about tonight.


Hilarious levels of censorship over at Fight Opinion, Part 1

Kaku is out of town. Still taking the scenic route back from Vegas, I suppose. He told me to take over the blog in case anything interesting happened while he was gone, but I'm even lazier about updates than he is.

I am also much less diplomatic than my pal, so when I was thinking earlier today about a topic to talk about, I decided to go with one of my favorites: the tragicomic life of one Zach Arnold.

This guy would be harmless, except for the fact that he's duped 5-10 equally verbose people and make-believe "journalists" into thinking that he is knowledgeable about (a) Japan and (b) MMA. That's laughable when you consider the colossal number of errors he's made in translating/paraphrasing Japanese news over the years (mind you, I have to admit to not being anywhere near perfect myself, despite my best efforts with language teachers as an American trapped in Tokyo over the last couple of years) and his even more limited knowledge of MMA, not to mention anything that's a real sport (read: excluding "puro resu.").

I do confess, however, to reading Zach Arnold's stuff from time to time over the years. Yes, I get tired of reading in Japanese from time to time. But if there's one thing that this guy is a master of, it's burning bridges. You have to wonder how a guy who used to have a half-decent fighter or sports entertainer on his internet radio show from time to time (the Mike Sempervive days, I guess) can't get anyone for his shows nowadays. And how the forum attracts no more than about three active (meaning at least one post a month) contributors.

Well, burning bridges takes practice. A good way to hone your skills in this department is to enforce a heavy censorship policy. Like his neo-con idols, Zach Arnold can't seem to tolerate the slightest disagreement with his ideas. Of late, it seems that he's again taken to his quarterly weeding out of troublemakers on the Fight Opinion comments sections, going so far as to erase comments that these troublemakers might have made several days earlier. First, he's been focusing on people who are able to identify when he's stretching the truth about some Japanese-language materials or when he's just plain unable to understand them, and who are bringing these issues up on his site. (This would include people like "b," who commented recently on one of kaku's articles. Don't worry, b -- you can comment here as much as you want without fear of getting deleted.) Second, he's been eliminating people that have raised certain things in Zach Arnold's undisclosed work history that may explain much of his hardline stances in favor of, or against, certain promotions. This would include a certain poster named "Allen," who on a multiple of occasions raised the suggestion that Zach Arnold failed in a past attempt to get a job with the Pride organization.

So here's an open call to any of you that might have a story or two about Zach Arnold. I don't know much about the guy, but I'm sure some of you guys out there -- like b and Allen and some forum people over at the UG or Sherdog -- could help us out greatly in forming a more colorful and accurate picture of this mysterious shah of Fight Opinion.

(Besides, I'm too tired to write any more. Damn vodka tonics.)


Akebono's mother passes away, Tanigawa classless as usual

According to Sportsnavi, Janice Rowan, the mother of Akebono (Chad Rowan) passed away due to breathing difficulties.

FEG and K-1 event producer Tanigawa Sadaharu made a statement that "even though the Yokozuna is going through trying times, we want him to win a fight at the end of the year on the Dynamite show for his mother's sake." Why can't this guy just give condolences like normal people?


What Fuji TV ban? Takada on "Iitomo"

Tomorrow, Takada Nobuhiko will be on Fuji TV's extremely popular mid-day show, "Waratte Iitomo" hosted by Tamori.

However, weren't all persons connected to PRIDE blacklisted from Fuji TV?

This could turn out to be quite interesting. Takada has been on television a lot more in recent weeks, partly because of the court ruling related to the citizenship of his children. But maybe there is more behind this particular TV appearance. Let's keep an eye on this.


Kameda Koki title defense postponed

This is not an MMA story, but Kameda Koki, the controversial champion of the WBA light flyweight class, will not defend his title as scheduled on October 18. Kameda was injured above his left eye during sparring. Kyoei Gym will make an official announcement later on Monday.

The fight would have been a rematch between Kameda and Juan Jose Landaeta.


Sakuraba out of Hero's October 9

As most people have already heard, Sakuraba collapsed during training on Monday and was rushed to a hospital. On Tuesday, doctors were still not able to conduct detailed tests to pinpoint a condition.

Some news sources are reporting that test results are now coming back. Sakuraba's collapse is related to 椎骨脳底動脈 (tsuikotsu-noutei-doumyaku), which are blood vessels that run up to the brain from the sides of the spine. I tried to do a quick check, and I think the condition in English is called vertebrobasilar insufficiency or maybe TIA. I am not a doctor, so please look it up on web search. However, it seems that this condition makes the victim susceptible to stroke.

If this is a correct diagnosis, I think that Sakuraba should not enter the ring anymore. Let us pray for him and his wife and kids.


UFC name recognition in Japan

Lately I have been getting some email from people with various questions, and I will try to respond to all of them. I got an email from the blog master of He asked me what the interest level for UFC is in Japan.

The short answer is that UFC has very little name recognition in Japan. But it depends on the question: Interest level for UFC among whom? It occurred to me that many non-Japanese are not really sure what Japanese fight fans are like.

Fans of MMA or kickboxing or all fight sports in Japan are like fans of anything, anywhere in the world. That means that there are many types of fans for any type of interest. Think about beer. Some people like rich, tasty beer from Belgium but only drink a couple of bottles. Other people like Japanese beer because it matches lots of different kinds of food and it is easy to drink. Other people don't care about the beer taste but just drink lots of beer to get drunk. All these people are called beer fans, right?

Even though there are more people who know about MMA in Japan than there are people who know about MMA in America, MMA fans in Japan do not all have the same level of interest. Actually, some people know PRIDE in Japan who do not know MMA. In other words, some people have seen PRIDE on TV and know its name, but they do not know that PRIDE is MMA. Some other people call all fighting "K-1" whether it is a standing fight or a ground fight. Some people cannot even tell the difference between a standing fight and a ground fight! Basically, many people are confused.

Of course, there are hardcore fans of MMA too. There are probably more of these kinds of people in Japan than in America, even though the American population is more than 2x the Japanese population. These hardcore fans know about UFC and they know some famous UFC fighters, like Liddell, Hughes, Couture.

I think that the most knowledgeable fans are at small shows like Shooto or ZST or D.O.G. One reason why there are more knowledgeable fans here is because a larger percentage of the audience is made up of people who train in kickboxing, jujitsu, grappling, or MMA. Also, fans at Pancrase shows are knowledgeable. Many fans at these other shows don't just cheer fighters, they actually yell instructions! Often very detailed, like "Straighten your back!" or "Switch your hips!" PRIDE is the most popular show, but that is because many PRIDE fans used to watch or still watch pro wrestling. Many other PRIDE fans only like it because it has a famous name or it is like an event in society. Actually, I know some people who say, "I only watch Shooto. I don't like PRIDE too much. It is not serious." But maybe Shooto fans know more about UFC than PRIDE fans. Sometimes Shooto fans know new talent in UFC like Diego Sanchez. Sometimes PRIDE fans only know the UFC fighters after they come to PRIDE, like Mark Coleman or Vitor Belfort.

Then I started thinking about how many real MMA fans there are in Japan. As I said above, many people who watch MMA on TV or live are not sure what MMA is, cannot tell its difference from K-1, etc. It is not 100%, but I think almost all MMA fans in Japan watch PRIDE, even if some of them prefer something else. So maybe we can assume that all the people who go to watch a PRIDE show are MMA fans. That means they understand what MMA is. A big Saitama crowd is 40,000. Also, the people who watch PRIDE on Sky Perfect probably are real MMA fans. Some otaku watch by themselves and some people watch in groups, so I guess an average 2 people per pay-per-view. If there are about 60,000 average buyers on Sky Perfect, that is 120,000 fans. Together, this is 160,000 MMA fans who are serious enough about PRIDE to watch it live.

On the other hand, there is television. PRIDE's average rating before Fuji TV terminated the contract was about 15%. Japan's population is about 125 million, but TV viewing public at night is more like 100 million, I guess. That means up to 15 million regular viewers of PRIDE on TV.

So the real number of MMA fans in Japan is somewhere 160,000 and 15 million. That is a big gap, but I think the real answer is a little bit closer to the smaller end. So without any other evidence, at this point I would guess at 3~4 million MMA fans in Japan. To put it another way, about 1 out of 30~35 people would know that PRIDE heavyweight champion is Fedor, for example. Of course, you would get a better hit ratio if you exclude babies and really old people. I think that sounds about right.

I wonder what is the number of serious MMA fans in America?