MMA Around the Cage 5: Strikeforce Takes Japan? Sonnen Sends Letter to Silva

Joe Lanza@@JoeMLanzaCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2011

A look at Strikeforce’s possible foray into Japan, Chael Sonnen’s unique way of challenging Michael Bisping, Bellator kicks off Season 4, a highly touted Japanese prospect is set to debut in Strikeforce, and much more…

Let’s go Around The Cage, 3/3/11


Strikeforce looking to exploit Japan?

When the UFC purchased the remains of Pride Fighting Championships, Dana White first planned for Zuffa to run PRIDE as a separate entity in Japan. This would eventually set up potential “supercards” where UFC champions would face PRIDE champions once a year, making for a MMA Superbowl-like event.

This never came to fruition, largely due to Zuffa’s inability to secure a television deal in Japan for PRIDE. White has admitted that negotiating deals in Japan is a completely different animal than negotiating deal in the United States, and Zuffa shelved the idea.

The end result of the PRIDE purchase has produced very little for Zuffa aside from a best of PRIDE television show on Spike. It also forced the booking of Mark Hunt, a former PRIDE fighter with a losing record. Hunt was prepared to fight in court that the UFC owed him the fights remaining on his PRIDE deal when Zuffa purchased the assets.

Hunt was given two preliminary level fights to complete the obligation. Hunt lost to Sean McCorckle a UFC 119, but upset Chris Tuchsherer at UFC 127. This put White in an awkward position, due to his unwritten rule of not cutting fighters coming off of a win. 

Meanwhile, Strikeforce head man Scott Coker has been quietly developing relationships with key Japanese power brokers while co-promoting with DREAM.

DREAM was formed when the former Dream Stage Entertainment executives who ran PRIDE collaborated with FEG, the parent company of K-1 and K-1 Hero’s. They essentially formed PRIDE version 2.0, complete with the pageantry, over the top hype videos, and “screaming banshee lady” Lenne Hardt’s ring introductions.

After three tumultuous years trying to resurrect the magic of PRIDE, DREAM has fallen on hard times, and the future of the company looks bleak after the announcement that the wealthy Chinese investors counted on to keep the company afloat had decided against the investment.

With the other major MMA player in Japan, Sengoku Raiden Championships, also struggling to survive (SRC recently, and ominously, released all of its foreign talent from their contracts, including reigning middleweight champion Jorge Santiago), there looks to be a potential void the Japanese MMA market.

Enter Strikeforce.

The last thing Japan needs is another PRIDE redux. Japan is a fad-based culture, and the PRIDE model no longer holds appeal to the mainstream audience. Five years ago, half the Japanse viewing audience would have watched Bob Sapp fight on New Year’s Eve, numbers comparable to the Super Bowl in America.

No longer. Since the demise of PRIDE, DREAM events, while critically well-received and pleasing to hardcores, have failed to capture the interest of the culture at large. A copy is never as good as the original.

Perhaps a new take on the fight game is what Japan needs. A cage as opposed to a ring. New faces mixed in with traditional Japanese favorites. Strikeforce can bring fighters with a built-in reputation and fan base in Japan, like Alistair Overeem, Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett. Coker already has a relationship with Japanese fighters like Shinya Aoki.

Impressive stable of fighters aside, the key will be creating new stars. The biggest hurdle faced by both DREAM and Sengoku was the inability to find new stars to capture the imagination of the fan base. And you simply cannot create new stars without securing a television contract.  

Coker has a leg up on Dana White in one key regard. He has an established relationship with Real Entertainment, the executive group that was formally associated with PRIDE and worked with FEG to produce DREAM.

In a culture where businessmen are very wary of doing business with westerners, Coker has built-in associates who have dealt with the Japanese television executives, fighter representatives, and the people who run the arenas. Where Zuffa went into Japan blind and came away with nothing, Strikeforce can at least bring partners who understand how to get business done in Japan.

Sky Perfect TV, a Japanese satellite company similar to Dish Network or DirecTV in the United States, offered the recent Strikeforce Fedor vs. Silva show on PPV, to “very good” results. According to various reports, the April 9 Strikeforce card (which was originally rumored to take place in Japan) will feature several Japanese fighters on the preliminary undercard, including Shinya Aoki.

Depending which report you choose to believe, Sky Perfect will either offer the prelim portion of the show or the entire card (which features Japanese lightweight Tatsuya Kawajiri challenging Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce lightweight title) on PPV as well.

With that said, Japanese PPV is nothing like North American PPV. It is far less ingrained in the culture, and very few people have access to it. But it’s a foot in the door. UFC hasn’t even gotten that far.

In an interesting note, while Strikeforce to Japan rumors were flying around last month, the Japanese magazine Kampiro ran a quote from Dana White in which he stated that “a Japan event is already on the 2011 schedule,” supposedly for December. For what its worth, White has never made such a claim to the U.S. media.

With DREAM and Sengoku on the ropes, the time to strike for either company is now, and Strikeforce appears to be making the inroads and has a leg up.


Chael Sonnen Calls Out Michael Bisping Via Wacky Letter To Joe Silva


To: Joe Silva, Matchmaker Extraordinaire, Ultimate Fighting Championship
Re: Spitsbing & his tainted victory


If you get a chance to talk with him, please mention to your idiot-in-residence Michael Spitsbing it’ll be a little tougher to knee ME in the head when I’m charging at him like a runaway train and mincing him through the fence like a boiled potato, should we ever have the pleasure of each other’s company for a few (VERY few) moments in the Octagon.

Oh; and I’d suggest to him being a little careful about spitting on any of MY cornermen, since any one of them can beat him up as badly as I can. Thanks ever so much.
Hope all is well.

-Chael Sonnen


Via Twitter a few days later, Vitor Belfort expressed interest in facing Bisping.

Sonnen, arguably the best talker in the game and a man who understands how to hype a fight, must have been itching for a chance to get under Bisping’s skin after seeing how easily Bisping was rattled by Jorge Rivera’s YouTube videos.

But the idea of a Sonnen-Bisping encounter gives the UFC two options depending on where the fight takes place. Sonnen would be the antagonist in England, while Bisping, never loved in America to begin with, would be the heel in the United States, especially coming off of his questionable actions during and after the Rivera fight.

Either way, that matchup would be a good tune up for Sonnen, whose suspension has been served, and who is looking to get his rematch with Anderson Silva. I don’t believe Sonnen would have much trouble dispatching of Bisping, and the idea of Sonnen parading around the cage like a conquering American hero is something I’d love to see.


Bellator Kicks Off Season 4 This Saturday

Around The Cage is more than happy to plug the debut of Bellator Season 4, starting with the loaded welterweight quarterfinals this Saturday night on MTV2, and running live every Saturday thereafter.

For a detailed preview of the show, click here:

Bellator has decided not to move its time slot, which means it will go head to head with the Strikeforce Feijao vs. Henderson show airing on Showtime. The Bellator show will have a one-hour head start, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

There is no definitive word on whether Bellator will move the start time on Saturdays when they go head to head with UFC. Talk has it that that Viacom, the parent company of both MTV2 and UFC home Spike, does not want the two to go head to head, with the idea that Saturday can be “MMA night”, hoping fans will watch both.

This thinking is misguided, unless Bellator is advertised and pushed hard on UFC telecasts, something Dana White would probably be against. A large majority of UFC fans likely don’t even realize that Bellator exists.

The bottom line, is at this stage of the game, Bellator is a small fish in a big pond, catering to a niche audience of hardcore fans. There should be no fear of going head to head with either Strikeforce or UFC, as Bellator will not draw a large enough audience to where it would make a meaningful difference anyway (for a detailed look at the challenges Bellator faces with surviving on MTV2, click here: )

The best course of action for Bellator would be to keep the “same time, same place, same channel” mentality that head man Bjorn Rebney has been preaching in media interviews. But if Viacom decides otherwise, it would be out of his hands.


Ishii Set to Make Strikeforce Debut

Satoshi Ishii, the Japanese Olympic gold-medal-winning judoka who was the last great hope of DREAM to become a mainstream superstar and save the company, will make his Strikeforce debut on the April 1 Strikeforce Challengers 15 show against Scott Lighty.

Ishii, who entered the sport with tons of hype, lost his debut fight to veteran judo practitioner Hidehiko Yoshida on New Year’s Eve 2009, in what was designed as a passing of the torch. The loss derailed any hopes that Ishii could spark an MMA resurgence in Japan, as his subsequent fights for DREAM and K-1 failed to spark any mainstream interest.

He carries a 4-1 record, with his best wins over journeyman level (but big name) fighters Minowaman and kickboxing legend Jerome LeBanner. Both wins were lackluster decisions that could cure insomnia.

The main event Of Challengers 15 will be Justin Wilcox (10-3) taking on Rodrigo Damm (9-4) in a battle of lightweights looking to take the next step and earn a spot on the main Strikeforce cards.



Coming & Going

Bellator has signed French submission master Christian M’Pumbu (15-3-1), who will compete in this season’s light heavyweight tournament.

Bellator has also announced former Division I All American wrestler Raphael Davis (10-1) will compete in the light heavyweight tournament, rounding out the field of eight. Davis is a Bellator veteran who is 2-0 in the promotion.

Former Strikeforce bantamweight women’s champion Sarah Kaufman has signed a reported two fight deal with Armageddon Fighting Championships. She will make her debut on April 2 against the always dangerous and undefeated TBD.

Former UFC fighter Marcus Davis has signed with Canadian group Maximum Fighting Championships, and will face somebody named Kajan Johnson (18-11-1 journeyman).


Follow Joe Lanza on Twitter @JoeMLanza for all of my article updates and random ramblings.

Check out Around The Cage Vol. 4, which examines the ranking bias and has stirred up controversy in more than one place on the internet:



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