The UFC travels to the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time since 2000 and for the first time ever under Zuffa control tomorrow with UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson, a stacked fight card that the promotion is hoping will kick off their push into the Japanese market.
Often unfairly credited as the sole factor to bring about the demise of Japan’s most notable MMA promotion, Pride Fighting Championships, UFC president Dana White has made it a point to let everyone know ahead of UFC 144 his full respect, not just for Pride, but for Japan and it’s fight culture in general.
“I love Japan. I was just talking to Rampage — I don’t know if I love it as much as Rampage does, but I love it here and I’m very excited about coming back here,” said White. “You know, Lorenzo and I came and saw the last UFC (under Semaphore Entertainment Group control, UFC 29, which took place in Tokyo) — we were going through the due diligence to buy the UFC at the time — and obviously we’ve been to a couple of the Pride events. Very exciting to be back here. This is a place where a lot of great organizations held events; not only did they build a lot of Japanese talent, but a lot of talent from around the world here in Japan.”
Though the crowd at the Saitama Super Arena this Saturday will hardly mirror the mammoth audiences of 70,000+ that Pride FC used to draw, White is happy with the interest shown in his product by the locals and is deeming the show a success before fight night.
“I think the event’s already been successful. I mean, we’re close to a sellout already,” he said. “Obviously, the card that we put together for this event is phenomenal. Most of the people here in Japan that have been fans of the UFC and have been watching on television for a long time — I always say it, I’ll say it again: if you’ve never seen the UFC live, get ready Japan. It is the most exciting live sporting event you will ever see. And I think after we put on this event on Saturday — again, just like everywhere else we’ve been — it’s gonna start to spread.”
UFC 144 goes down tomorrow night from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan and will feature a lightweight title fight between champ Frankie Edgar and challenger Ben Henderson. FightLine will be back on the night with our live, ongoing coverage of the event.