A Bright Future for Young Japanese Fighters

The following article is by Chris Gunn and shared with his permission.

Two weeks ago, Takumi Tamaru and Hayato Ishii fought to an incredibly exciting draw in Shooto. Both fighters are 21 years old, undefeated and have incredible potential. The future looks very bright for both fighters but with the emergence of Rizin, it is not clear where the future may lead.

Since the demise of Pride 10 years ago, the dream of a lot of Japanese fighters has been to reach the UFC. However, Rizin has become a new, potentially more rewarding avenue for homegrown talent.

MMA media and fans alike were shocked and disappointed when Koji Horiguchi signed with Rizin. After all, he had a 7-1 record in the UFC, his only loss coming in the final second of a five round championship fight to Demetrious Johnson. Many people wanted to see him fight the likes of Joseph Benavidez, Henry Cejudo or even Ray Borg. However, in signing for Rizin, he showed that there is potentially a more viable option.

Since the emergence of Conor McGregor, the UFC has tended to favour self-promoting fighters, who will call out their opposition or create controversy. However, this typically isn’t how Japanese fighters approach fight promotion, preferring to show respect and speak of their opponents’ attributes. This, coupled with the language barrier, makes it more difficult to promote Japanese fighters overseas. While Japanese fans do enjoy the showmanship of brash, flamboyant fighters, they are also apt to get behind those showing skill, technique and respect. They are also crying out for homegrown Japanese fighters to get behind. After all, this is an incredibly patriotic country, and it’s MMA fans have waited a long time to see one of their own have success on a global scale. One only has to look at the likes of Rena or Tenshin Naskukawa to see that the promotion is willing to promote and build the careers of its own young, Japanese stars.

Prize fighting is also about the prize. Horiguchi’s last disclosed payout from the UFC was $26,000 to show, $26,000 to win and $5,000 from Reebok sponsorships. Rizin are likely to be offering generous remuneration and the possibilities for sponsorships are much more bountiful. While not quite a household name yet, Rena particularly has been slowly building her presence on Japanese television, with Rizin’s Japanese network TV slot providing the platform for this. This would be very encouraging for young Japanese Mixed Martial Artists who might see other fighters receiving mainstream media attention and advertising endorsements and realise the earning potential of domestic stardom.

For exciting, young prospects like Tamaru and Ishii, they now have more options in terms of career paths. This can only be a huge boost for the next wave of young Japanese fighters.

About the Author

Jeremy Deschner

Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do from the Texas Karate Institute, and Host of Pancrase Radio Podcast. Commentator for Pancrase MMA on UFC FIghtPass. Now training in Brazilian Jiujitsu in Japan.
Pancrase Radio Podcast is available on Stitcher and ITunes.
Twitter: @mmajpn1 @jiujitsu_Jedi @PancraseRadio