UFC Returns To Japan

Ultimate Fighting Championships returned to Japan after a lengthy absence Feb. 25 with UFC 144, which came to the Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo with a great deal of publicity.

It was one of the biggest mixed martial arts events in recent memory, and UFC hopes it will reclaim Japan as one of the biggest markets for MMA in the world.

UFC parent company Zuffa purchased PRIDE, an MMA fight promotion style that mixed sport with spectacle, in 2007 and disbanded the event.

Until then, it was hugely popular in Japan, but Zuffa eventually moved the talent involved to UFC for a variety of reasons, including rumors that PRIDE had connections to the Japanese criminal underworld. In a sense, UFC 144 is a means to revive the excitement of PRIDE without some of its more outrageous, but distinctive, touches, such as elaborate ring entrances, comical open-weight matches that pitted 400-pound combatants against 100-pound combatants and guest fighters from other sports.

In August 2010, UFC set up a new operations office for Asia that has been targeting China, the Philippines and other territories for expansion.

Japan will increasingly become a target as well since a number of MMA promotional entities have either closed shop in recent years or cut back their own operations.