The eleventh month of the eleventh year of the new millennium will go down in history as the month of rebirth for MMA in Asia.
Events came to a crescendo on the 28th, when the entire MMA community was treated to a triple-header of press releases involving two of the most well-known and dominating promotions worldwide – UFC and DREAM – and newcomer ONE FC, whose aspirations may rise higher than anything seen before.
With the financial fate of DREAM Japan’s parent company FEG in question, the promotion announced that it would still hold a traditional New Years Eve show, but under the sponsorship of FieLDS and IGF (a professional wrestling promotion). In snippets of Japanese language-only press conferences, the epic fight card was revealed.
First came a featherweight bout between Crusher Tatsuya Kawajiri and previous title contender Kazuyuki Miyata. Then an eight years in the making welterweight rematch bout between Ryo Chonan and Hayato Sakurai, a member of the now infamous Zaromskis Headkick Club.
Championship bouts announcements followed, with a Featherweight contention between Champion Hiroyuki Takaya taking on Lion Takeshi and a Lightweight title defense by the arm collecter Shinya Aoki against long-time training partner Satoru Kitaoka.
Additionally, the bantamweight semifinals and final will be held with Masakazu Imanari versus Antonio Banuelos and Bibiano Fernandes versus Rodolfo Marques; the Reserve bout being equally exciting as Hideo Tokoro takes on Yusup Saadulaev.
As DREAM was working with M-1, they have secured Fedor for the event, but his opponent hasn’t been confirmed. King Mo has stated he wants the fight, while the rumor is that primary contender Satoshi Ishii doesn’t. There are scheduled to be professional wrestling and kickboxing matches on the card as well. It will be an excellent way to ring in the new year for sure.
As if vying for the title of ‘most names dropped on a fight card’, the UFC announced the matches for its 144 Japan show to be held in February, stacking it with virtually every well-known Japanese fighter it has in the organisation: PRIDE superstar Takanori Gomi, Shooto-bred Hatsu Hiokiand Takeya Mizugaki, K-1 Hero’s Kid Yamamoto and Sexiyama, and DEEP’s Riki Fukuda.
Rounding out the card are previous championship contender Yushin Okami, and – like the US tends to do – adding in Tiequan Zhang to the mix probably because, well, he’s Asian.
The (not so ironic) headliner will be a lightweight title match between half-Korean Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar. The UFC also confirmed a return to Japan for PRIDE veteran Rampage Jackson – who aggressively campaigned to be on the card. Want a ringside seat? Ante up a cool USD$1,300.
UFC 144’s main card will start at 10am Japan time, airing live on PPV to the US. This leaves a big question unanswered: because the event starts so early, will the undercard matches be held after the main card?
ONE FC and DREAM
And then, as if paying homage to the greatness that is Japanese MMA while ushering in a new era of MMA recognition throughout all of Asia, ONE FC’s guerrilla carpet-bombing press on recent strategic partnerships with Asian MMA promotions ended with a bang of a bunker-buster: a mutually exclusive partnership with DREAM.
With the bold font-intended words “effective immediately” ONE FC announced that this partnership means that all ONE FC fighters are eligible to fight in DREAM and vice versa.
A co-promotion to be held in Singapore is being planned for as early as 31 March, an extremely ambitious undertaking between a newcomer with great technique and a veteran heavy hitter. ONE FC must have some serious broadcast deals in their pocket to capture the stalwart’s interest and cooperation.