Many MMA journalists, especially Yahoo Sports’ Dave Meltzer, have chronicled the decline of MMA in Japan.
Even before Pride was bought out by Zuffa, they experienced a significant drop in their television ratings. Now the FEG backed Dream promotion has been having trouble drawing an audience as well.
On top of that, news that native stars, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Satoshi Ishii might sign elsewhere forecasts a bleak future. However, due to the results from New Year’s Eve, things might be looking up.
While MMA has been struggling in the land of the rising sun, K-1, the nation’s most popular combat sport, has continued to enjoy regular success. On their annual New Year’s Eve show, Dynamite!!, K-1 promotes both MMA and K-1 rules matches with some cross over between the two sports. It is traditional for MMA stars to try their hand at K-1 and vice versa.
This year Pride veteran, Alistair Overeem was matched against former K-1 Heavyweight Champion, Badr Hari and Dream GP champion, Gegard Mousasi took on Musashi.
With a sold out Saitama Super Arena crowd watching, both of the MMA fighters came through in spades. Mousasi blitzed Musashi and knocked him down twice before the referee stopped the action. The end came at only two minutes and thirty two seconds into the fight. Overeem was equally impressive as he dispatched bad boy lightning rod, Badr Hari, in a little over two minutes.
After his fight, Alistair Overeem said, “for all MMA fighters and everybody who think respect is important, there you go.” Although some are calling the night a collection of freak shows and mismatches, these fights may go a long way for the struggling sport in Japan. Clearly a few victories is not going to solve all of the sport’s issues, but they certainly bring some much needed positive attention to MMA.
Perhaps Dream will be able to piggy back on the success of its K-1 counterpart. Also, Sengoku 7 taking place in on January 4, combined with the New Year’s Eve Dynamite!! event will serve as a nice one-two punch for MMA in Japan.
MMA as much as any business needs competition to prosper. A healthy Japanese MMA scene is vital to the continued success of the sport. In the end, Overeem, the demolition man, might have a little renaissance man in him.