Yoshihiro Akiyama. Photo courtesy of Fight Entertainment Group.
Think the UFC isn’t serious about heading to Japan this time around? Think again:
The Ultimate Fighting Championship today announced that it has signed top-ten middleweight contender Yoshihiro Akiyama to an exclusive promotional contract that will see him step into the UFC Octagon for the first time this summer.
“I’m excited to bring Akiyama into the UFC and I can see him making an immediate impact in the middleweight division,” said UFC President Dana White. “Besides his great judo and submission game, he’s a finisher, and UFC fans are going to love watching him because he always shows up to fight.”
This signing is huge. Not only does the stagnant middleweight division receive a boost in the form of a Top 10 middleweight, but the UFC now has another fighter that they can use for a potential trip to Japan in the next year or so. Akiyama moving to the UFC is a huge blow to DREAM and K-1, where he was a huge star and one of their biggest draws.
Dana White has said multiple times in the past few months that he is determined to get into the Japanese market. We heard it before after Zuffa bought PRIDE and then opted to dismantle it instead, but the recent signing of Caol Uno and the obvious discussions with Kid Yamamoto and Satoshi Ishii are potentially giving the UFC a legitimate shot to draw fans overseas. No longer is the UFC content with trading barbs with the Japanese MMA figureheads. Now they are set on taking their fighters too.
Will they actually end up holding an event in Japan? Time will tell. In reality, the threat of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) is legitimate and not something to joke around about. However if the UFC can find a safe way to hold a show without disturbing things over there, I’m sure they will do it.
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