Japanese Tabloids Changing MMA Tune

By Tony Loiseleur May 1, 2009
Fans that have followed Japanese mixed martial arts since the Pride Fighting Championships days know the news found in the country’s weekly tabloids is taken more seriously than even its own newspapers. If a political or celebrity exposé breaks in a tabloid, odds are the story is spot-on, and everyone will buy into it. This is the reason why accusations of Pride being connected to organized crime by Shukan Gendai resulted in Fuji TV dropping the promotion from a lucrative television deal to avoid negative backlash.

Couple that with Gendai’s accusations last year that Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto -- arguably Dream’s biggest star -- fancied herb and “pot parties,” and we all naturally began to think the tabloids had an agenda to kill the sport in Japan.

Surprisingly, that may not be the case. During an interview with World Victory Road’s Public Relations Director, Takahiro Kokuho, I learned there is such a thing as good press from Japan’s weekly tabloids.

In a neat Möbius-strip kind of way, two of Japan’s weekly tabloids plan to actually promote MMA. Prominently featured in the pages of the highly respected Shukan Shincho and Friday -- a tabloid produced by mega publisher Kodansha, which also publishes Gendai -- are spreads on elite Japanese wrestler turned MMA prospect Shigeki Osawa. One of Sengoku’s specially selected investments under its fighter development program, Osawa (1-0) will make his Sengoku debut this Sunday at “Eighth Battle” against Kota Ishibashi.

While circulation numbers put Shincho at approximately 500,000 units per week and Friday at 600,000, it should be noted that a lot more readers see these magazines than sales numbers may reflect. Particularly in Tokyo, where tabloids, newspapers and weekly comic digests are left on trains with regularity, it’s common to see a businessman take up an abandoned copy to read before setting it back down for the next lucky traveler.

With the popular attention these weekly tabloids will send Osawa’s way, more eyes will trickle in to check on Sengoku to see how the All Japan Collegiate Wrestling champion and World University Wrestling champion fares. It’s welcome exposure, especially considering Sengoku’s efforts to increase its public profile.

Some highlights from the articles:

• Osawa committed to becoming a professional fighter in October 2008 after essentially knocking on the door of Yoshida Dojo. He asked for the chance to fully realize the potential he had only just begun to discover in himself during his time in amateur wrestling.

• He’s a tattoo enthusiast and a devout fan of the late Tupac Shakur. Thus, Osawa claims the legendary Rap superstar is the inspiration behind his many tattoos.

• Speaking of tattoos and Hidehiko Yoshida, the Olympic judo gold medalist had this to say of the young prospect: “I was kind of surprised when I first met him because he’s got a lot of tattoos (tattoos have somewhat of a social stigma in Japan). But as I got to know him, I found him to be a well-disciplined guy who’s got heart. He has great technique and speed that has led to him becoming a champion as an amateur wrestler. I’d like him to continue working to one day be at the top of Sengoku.”

• In addition to a rigorous training and fight schedule, Osawa just became a full-time employee at Sengoku’s main sponsor, Don Quijote. His full-page profile photo in Shincho shows him carrying a tower of boxes with the look of a man whose brow has been furrowed by labor and toil.

When asked if Osawa really worked for Don Quijote, Kokuho answered with a fatherly smile.

“Yes,” he said. “He works at Donki. I can’t go soft on him.”

Shopping at the discount department store can become a nerve-racking experience, since it’s always incredibly busy. I cannot imagine how stressful it might be working there, in addition to training MMA full-time.

They say whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? Given my experiences shopping at Don Quijote, I’m fairly certain that Osawa’s time there will give him that much more grit in the ring.

Whatever the case, I just hope that when he debuts, he comes out to dancing “Donpen” penguins like Kazuhiro Nakamura once did.
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