The last time the Ultimate Fighting Championships visited Japan—UFC 29—Pat Miletich was the UFC lightweight (now known as welterweight) champion, Tito Ortiz won his first of five light heavyweight title defenses, UFC middleweight king Anderson Silva was still 18 months away from his Pride FC debut and Ben Henderson was a senior in high school.
For the first time in just over 11 years, the UFC will return to the Land of the Rising Sun for what is sure to be an action-packed card filled with great matches, intriguing storylines, and fighters returning to their home country. While this is the first UFC event in Japan of the Zuffa era, it’s hard to imagine that a country so rich in martial arts tradition and heritage would not host more in the future.
Similar to UFC 134 in Brazil, UFC 144 will feature a card full of fighters from the host country—nine in total, three on the main card. What differs this time around is that the Japanese fighters on the UFC roster do not possess the star power or the level of success that their Brazilian counterparts have achieved.
Some of these competitors are potentially fighting for their UFC lives and had it not been for the upcoming event in Japan, they would’ve long ago received their walking papers. However, like UFC 134, we saw native Brazilians “Minotauro” Nogueira and “Shogun” Rua show a piece of themselves that fans thought was long gone.
It’s amazing the energy that one can draw from representing your homeland. Will the UFC’s Japanese cast be able to do the same?