MMA in the Land of the Rising Sun doc

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					In secondary school I remember hearing Ireland was the 2nd largest peat producing nation in the
world. About 30 seconds later my sense of national pride was shattered when it was revealed that the
USSR (I'm that old) was the leading nation with 98% of global production. Using this analogy the UFC
is the USSR of global MMA today. I’m guessing the UFC shows (Countdown, live events, Unleashed,
Wired and TUF) must be 80-90% of global MMA TV broadcasts. The UFC are effectively a monopoly
in global MMA.

An unfortunate by-product of the UFC's monopoly is the common misconception that MMA was
created in Denver 1993 at UFC 1. Not so, as Japanese organisations Shooto and Pancrase held
events with a brand of MMA that predate the UFC.

After the collapse of Pride, MMA in Japan is at a low ebb, which does a huge disservice to its
pioneering early days. Steeped in a martial arts history where judoka, sumo wrestlers and even pro
wrestlers are revered for there feats on the mat its no surprise that MMA can trace its origins to Japan.
Let's take a look back and tip our hat to when Japan ruled the MMA world.

The Shooto organisation was created by a pro wrestler Satoru Sayama in 1985 who wanted all the
action and a real result. It was different to traditional martial arts or amateur wrestling as it combined
these styles and allowed strikes but not with closed fists and not on the floor. It created a national
system that allowed young fighters graduate from novice to pro through various ranks. Shooto staged
the 1st pro MMA show in 1989. It remains the only MMA promotion to stage shows in all 47 of Japans
prefectures (all other MMA promotions operate solely in Tokyo). It been a nursery for many of Japans
leading fighters like Shinya Aoki, Rumina Sato, Yuki Nakai, Enson Inoue, Takanori Gomi and some
foreign fighters too like Erik Paulson (Brock Lesnar’s coach), Anderson Silva and Joachim Hansen. To
give an indication of the esteem Shooto is held in Japan, Takanori Gomi, a veteran of big-money
Japanese MMA shows, fought on the 2009 20 anniversary of Shooto’s first pro show card for a
meager purse. “Lion” Takeshi Inoue gave up the chance to fight in Sengoku’s featherweight
tournament to defend his 143-pound Shooto crown. And Rumina Sato, during a 15-year career,
refused to fight outside of Shooto-sanctioned events until he won a Shooto world title.

Following the success of Shooto, Pancrase was formed by more pro wrestlers Masakatsu Funaki and
Minoru Suzuki in 1993, taking their name from Pankration the ancient Greek fighting system that
combined boxing and wrestling. Funaki and Suzuki broke away from their pro wrestling promotion as
they were getting disillusioned with the story lines and theatrics rather than the in-ring skills. The rules
were broadly similar to Shooto but they centred on the lucrative Tokyo market and attracted more
international talent, most notably Ken Shamrock (a pro wrestler in Japan at the time) who was invited
to take part in UFC 1 as the “submission fighter”. He would eventually become the 1 King of
Pancrase, the organisations open-weight champion. Following an injury to Jen he brought his more
talented brother Frank to the organisation who would subsequently go on to hold the King of
Pancrase title. Bas Rutten started his MMA career in Pancrase also and enjoyed a rivalry with the
Shamrock brothers. Initially slow to change its rules Pancrase lost out to newer promotions that were
getting looser with striking side of MMA, only adopted closed fist strikes in 1998. Though not as
relevant anymore some current fighters still have proud associations with Pancrase. When not
suspended Josh Barnett is proud to represent Pancrase and defend his open weight champions belt.
And UFC stalwart Nate Marquardt is a 7 times middle weight King of Pancrase.

Moving with the times Shooto created the Vale Tudo Japan promotion in 1994. Closed fist strikes and
strikes to a downed opponent were now legal. Vale Tudo Japan ran evens from 1994 to 1999 with the
undoubted star being Rickson Gracie, who won the 94 and 95 tournaments. The Gracie name had
been long established in South America as the first family of no-holds barred fighting. Royce’s exploits
in UFC’s 1,2 and 4 further cemented that. Rickson, had long been considered the family champion,
finally had a stage to prove his skills and toughness. Japan found an unlikely hero in the deminutive
Yuki Nakai, the 150-pound world champion of pro Shooto. When the Shooto organisation was putting
together the second Vale Tudo Open card in 1995, Nakai was seen as the best fighter to showcase
Japanese budo or fighting spirit. The smallest competitor, Nakai beat Dutchman Gerard Gordeau in
the first round of the tournament, being repeatedly eye-gouged over the course of their 27-minute
bout. Nakai came back out in the semi-finals, eye bandaged, to submit American wrestler Craig
Pittman only to be beaten in the finals by Rickson Gracie. Gordeau’s gouging permanently blinded
Nakai in his right eye forcing him retire at 25. He only revealed the extent of the injury after 2 years as
he did not want Shooto to be blamed or criticised for such a brutal outcome.
And then came Pride in 1997, this organisation showed the world how big MMA could be. Originally
created as the staging ground for a match between Rickson Gracie and popular Japanese pro-
wrestler Nobuhiko Takada Pride events became the zenith of MMA at the time. Lured by the money
and the esteem that fighters were held in by the ordinary Japanese top overseas fighters joined the
local warriors to wow the crowds. At its peak Pride was the most popular MMA organization in the
world, broadcast in 40 countries. Pride also held the largest live MMA event audience record of over
90,000 people at the Pride and K-1 co-production, Shockwave/Dynamite, held in August 2002, as well
as the audience record of over 67,000 people for its own event at the Pride Final Conflict 2003.
Around the same time the UFC was remerging after the purchase by Zuffa but still only getting on
average 45,000 pay per view buys and under 10,000 in the arenas in 2002.

Possibly the greatest collection of fighters ever assembled was for the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix
tournament in 2000. The destroyers of those days Kerr, Coleman, Vovchanchyn, Gracie and the
Gracie Hunter, Japanese MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba were among the 16 fighters who lined up.
Coleman was victorious but the hour and half bout between Gracie and Sakuraba is the stuff of
legend. A pro wrestler turned fighter hands the UFC pioneer his 1st defeat

Many of the biggest fighters today cut there fighting teeth in the Pride ring – Wanderlai Silva, the Rua
brothers, the Nogeuira brothers, Quinton Jackson, Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Mirko
Filipovic, Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Alastair Overeem not to mention the countless local fighters
like Sakuraba, Takanori Gomi, Fujita. So of the best wars Jackson – Silva, Emelianenko – Nogeuira,

In the end the decline in Pride was swift as financial problems, links to the yakuza and a talent drain
to a resurgent UFC all resulted in the sale of Pride to the UFC. All fighters still contracted to Pride
could sit out their contract or strike a new deal with the UFC, which many did. The much smaller
DREAM promotion tried to fill the very big shoes left behind with only modest success.

We wouldn't have the UFC today if Japanese MMA and particularly Pride had never happened.
Unfortunately this is getting lost as the UFC takes MMA into the mainstream. While monopolies can
be prohibitive for competition the UFC is taking MMA to places other promotions simply can’t and its
important for the sport they continue to do so.. But its equally important we remember the contribution
of the Land of the Rising Sun to the MMA story.

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