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.


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?


  • At 11:09 AM, Blogger Rick said…


    Thanks for your thoughtful response to my question. I'm not sure if I can quantify the number of North American fans in quite the same way, but I can tell you that the number of knowledgeable fans in North America is growing.

    Although I participate in kick-boxing and attend local MMA events, my passion for MMA grew from watching The Ultimate Fighter TV show.

    In fact, many hardcore fans in North America deride the show, but it's been a booming entry point for many fans, many of which are becoming more and more knowledgeable, even hardcore.

    This is similar to the experience I had when I lived in Japan and became a sumo fan. At first it just seemed like two heavy-set guys pushing themselves around the ring until one fell out. But slowly I learned the difference between Yorikiri and Okuridashi, etc., and I began to appreciate the sport. I was lucky to have a co-worker who was a commentator on the NHK English broadcast who could explain the subtleties of sumo, but my fascination and passion grew as I learned more. Had I stayed longer in Japan, I’m sure I would have become hardcore.

    And as far as name recognition goes, I think it would be fair to say that the UFC or "ultimate fighting" has become a household name in North America (thanks to The Ultimate Fighter TV show), while Pride, Hero's, K-1 is known only to hardcore fans. With the number of hardcore fans increasing, this is bound to change. It will be especially interesting to see what impact Pride’s The Real Deal event in Las Vegas has on the North American fan base.

    In that regard, we hear a lot of banter between Pride and UFC about their respective fighters facing each other to prove their organization’s supremacy.

    I guess the question becomes, can MMA grow to become a unified, globally recognized sport?


  • At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Majid said…

    Hi kaku,

    Interesting blog post. I always thought MMA was bigger in japan. How does it compare in popularity to other sports such as baseball and soccer?

    Anyways nice blog and keep up the good work


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