I'm bummed not to be in Tokyo this time around. Last year I had an epic ride through fight week in Tokyo en route to a heart stopping, walk-off KO by Mark Hunt, but this year I'll be watching from Midwest. Such is life.
It's interesting to me because Japan and Seoul have big events coming up, but Macao is off the list; and I don't remember seeing any Chinese destinations on the list for next year. Too bad, the biggest market in the world once again finds itself playing second (or third) fiddle to the more developed markets to the Northeast. No matter, the Chinese are sending their best emissary to the Japanese Islands, bearing fists and a smile: Li "The Leech" Jingliang will be fighting on the card and he's a 2-1 favorite so far over the last minute replacement fighter, Keita Nakamura. Nakamura doesn't seem to have fought on a decent sized stage in more than eight years. The Leech must dominate in order for China to take its rightful place as a "market with so much potential" in the global MMA hierarchy.
So much for my sinophile bias.
James Goyder wrote about the Road to UFC Japan here, and it's the best look at a remarkably underwatched program. Eight Japanese hopefuls coached by Barnett and Nelson competed for a contract, the two men who made it to the end of the road will meet on Sunday: Mizuto Hirota versus Teruto Ishihara. Those little storylines that matter so much to people we will never know ... the six who are at home and the two competing for another shot at the top. Good luck gentlemen.
There is a revival afoot in the JMMA world and all men and women who love the martial world should rejoice. The Japanese were among the first to organize fighters together and throw them into cages, men and women of Japanese descent are responsible for introducing techniques, styles, entire martial arts into the global consciousness. Rousey owes her belt to Judo; The Gracies owe their legend to jiu jitsu.
When I was a kid on the US military base in Sagamihara we pit stag beetles against rhino beetles in little sawdust filled cages. A bunch of twelve year old boys gathered in the back of the neighborhood after scouring the incredibly foreign, indecipherable ciphers of off-base Japan for bugs with just the right mentality to win.
Everyone bow down to the constellation of islands who gave us karate and beetle wars.
I am eager to see Kyoji Horiguchi rebound after being thrown to the Wolf of his weight class (such a mighty mouse) in a sacrifice to the gods. It was wrong of the UFC to shove him in there with the champ just as his train left the station, but now after that short (hopefully instructive) detour, I'm betting Kyoji delivers a Holy Shit Moment. At his best, Horiguchi looks like Dominic Cruz unhinged out there. Let us pray.
So many legends were made at Saitama. So many battles that formed the foundation of the events we enjoy today. It's like students of the Enlightenment visiting the Acropolis and realizing the chain of stumbling very human choices that led from one to the other. There's a Roman sculpture in LA right now that might help jar those genetic memories, but I can fly to neither Cali nor Tokyo this weekend. So I'll read up on Aoki and Sakuraba, watch some PRIDE and WEC, maybe consult the Bubishi and then head to the local for UFC Japan, revisited. Sunday night. Can't wait.