The popularity of MMA is rapidly surging worldwide, with no signs of slowing down. Japan, the birthplace of MMA, has played a significant role in its success. Despite MMA’s global expansion, the number of Japanese athletes in the UFC has decreased, and the sport’s popularity has plummeted in recent years. However, there are some signs of an increase in Japanese interest in the sport. Consequently, sports betting sites in Japan, such as, are witnessing an increasing number of bettors seeking competitive MMA betting odds. In this article, we will review some of the best fighters from the land of the rising sun.

Genki Sudo

There are few more recognizable MMA stars in Asia than Genki Sudo. The former fighter now serves as a political independent in the House of Councillors, but he is still fondly remembered for his professional career in the sport. Sudo was one of the most entertaining fighters from Asia to watch inside the ring and octagon, and he combined multiple different techniques into his striking, and his enigmatic entrance always meant that all eyes were on him.

Overall, Sudo competed at the professional level in MMA on 21 occasions, scoring 16 wins and four defeats. Eleven of his wins were secured by submission, including in his last fight on December 31 against Damacio Page. He also competed in the UFC on three occasions, winning twice and losing on one occasion.

Caol Uno

Caol Uno is regarded as one of the biggest legends in the history of Japanese MMA, as he has shown longevity that few other stars can match. He made his professional MMA debut in October 1996, losing to Hayato Sakurai. However, he soon found his way in the sport, winning four of his next five fights. After spending the first 17 fights of his career in his homeland, Uno moved to the United States in 2001 after signing a deal with the UFC.

On his debut for the global promotion, he was beaten by decision by Jens Pulver for the UFC Lightweight Championship. He would go on to score his first fight in UFC later in 2001 after defeating Fabiano Iha by TKO. He would continue to compete at a high level in UFC, defeating Din Thomas and Yves Thomas, before drawing against B.J. Penn in an eagerly-awaited rematch.

After several years back in Japan, he returned to UFC in 2009, but he wouldn’t pick up a single victory in a three-fight deal until the middle of 2010. However, Uno would be remembered as a hero, as he continued to fight in his home country following this second stint in UFC until his eventual retirement in November 2021.

Norifumi Yamamoto

One of the fighters that helped build popularity in Japan throughout his career was the ultra-talented Norifumi Yamamoto. Throughout his career, he was considered one of the most entertaining finishers in the world of MMA, scoring victories in 17 of his 18 first bouts. In total, 13 of those wins came by knockout, and two further wins were scored by submission. His only defeat in his early career came on featherweight debut against Stephen Palling, but he returned to winning ways with victories in each of his following 15 bouts.

He would continue to be among the most entertaining MMA fighters on the planet even in defeat, as he played out thrilling contests against Joe Warren and Masanori Kanehara. He finally made it to the UFC in February 2011 but suffered three defeats on the bounce against Demetrius Johnson, Darren Uyenoyama, and Vaughan Lee.

His final professional bout ended in a no-contest at UFC 185, as Roman Salazar was rendered unable to continue following an accidental eye poke. Throughout his career, he beat some of the top stars in the history of Japanese MMA, including Royler Gracie, Caol Uno, and Jeff Curran. There was great sadness around Japan in 2018 when it was revealed that Yamamoto had lost his battle against cancer.

Final Thoughts

While the sport’s global appeal is expanding, Japan’s role as the birthplace of MMA cannot be ignored. Despite a drop in the number of Japanese fighters in the UFC and a dip in the sport’s popularity in recent years, there are signs of revived interest in Japan. It will, however, take some time for the sport to achieve the heights of success seen throughout the careers of these Japanese superstars. Today, there is a sense in Japan that MMA is on the right track, and these fighters have made significant contributions to its illustrious past and lasting legacy.