Quinton Jackson (left) and Ryan Bader squared off at the UFC 144 press conference. | Photo: Sherdog.com
TOKYO -- At a press conference on Monday at the Ritz Carlton, Ultimate Fighting Championship officials revealed the finalized card for the promotion’s Feb. 26 return to the Land of the Rising Sun.
A lightweight bout between former Pride Fighting Championships lightweight titleholder Takanori Gomi and George Sotiropoulos, a bantamweight bout pitting Norifumi Yamamoto with UFC-newcomer Vaughan Lee and a featherweight tilt between Leonard Garcia and Tiequan Zhang were announced to round out UFC 144’s 12-fight card, set to take place at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
“I’m excited to be holding what I consider the first UFC event in Japan. I don’t count the other ones because we weren’t involved,” quipped Zuffa UFC Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Fertitta.
“Bringing an event of this international magnitude to Japan was very important to us, and that’s why we put so much effort into bringing a stacked card that people from all over the world, including the Japanese fans, would want to see,” he added. “In addition to the hundreds of millions watching around the world, we expect that people will travel to Saitama to watch this event. There will be tickets sold from every continent around the world. We’d love to make a significant impact with the tourism industry in Japan.”
Flanking the UFC CEO were lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and challenger Ben Henderson, as well as Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jake Shields, Quinton Jackson, Ryan Bader and Yushin Okami.
“I am extremely excited to be fighting in Japan. It’s the birthplace of martial arts, and what better place to showcase your skills?” said a dapper and stylish Edgar. “It’s the greatest sport in the world, and [I am fighting] in the birthplace of where it all began. The Japanese fans are very knowledgeable. I think they’ll appreciate what we bring the table. Ben [is a] very aggressive guy, but I’m here to win. I don’t think it can be anything but exciting.”
Former WEC lightweight champion Henderson expressed similar excitement.
“I’m very excited and honored to be fighting for the UFC in Zuffa’s first-ever event in Japan,” he said. “We’re gonna put on a good show for the Japanese fans. I know they’re very appreciative of true MMA; not just wanting to see knockouts and highlight reels and bloodbaths but very knowledgeable of MMA. I’m looking forward to a good show.”
The event will also be something of a homecoming for former UFC light heavyweight champion “Rampage” Jackson, who rose to prominence inside Pride.
“It’s been a long time. I have to honestly say that I’ve fought in the Japan, the U.K. and America, and I really miss the fans in Japan the most,” said a jovial Jackson, who will collide with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Bader. “It’s a good feeling when you can hear your cornermen when you fight. I really respect the fans for that. Other places, you can’t hear your cornermen, and that’s a big thing to me because sometimes I don't know what I [am] doing out there. I’m really excited to be back.”
Despite this being Zuffa’s first foray into promoting in Japan and Asia at large, company officials promised to bring the complete UFC experience to Japanese fans.
“This is going to be a fully authentic UFC event like all of our big events all over the world, so we will absolutely have an open weigh-in and we will absolutely have the Octagon girls there. We haven’t set the exact time [for the open weigh-in] yet, but it’ll be either late Friday or early Saturday, with the event being early Sunday,” said UFC Asia Managing Director Mark Fischer.
Given the nascent state of pay-per-view and cable television culture in Japan, Fischer also noted the promotion’s ongoing negotiations with their local broadcast partners to make the event freely available to the wider domestic audience. Currently, the UFC is broadcast by Japanese satellite cable television station WOWOW, which has in the past broadcast major boxing events on “free preview” weekends. The UFC’s prior foray into the wider Japanese television sphere came with UFC Fight Night 21 in March, which aired on terrestrial broadcast station TV Tokyo.
“At this time, WOWOW is going to be the principle broadcaster. However, we are in discussions with WOWOW to make this broadcast available to a wide audience, unscrambled, throughout Japan,” said Fischer.
The UFC’s managing director of international development, Marshall Zelaznik, elaborated that should such an arrangement be reached with Japanese broadcast partners, it is likely that the main card will be offered for free to the Japanese television audience. Undercard bouts will remain available on Facebook for other international fans, but a different approach may be taken for Japan.
“We may have other channels in Japan for the rest of it, like with TV Bank, which we announced a little while ago,” said Fischer.
A subsidiary of Softbank -- one of Japan's major three telecommunications corporations -- TV Bank announced in January its partnership with the UFC to become the promotion’s exclusive online portal in Japan.
UFC 144 “Edgar vs. Henderson”
Sunday, Feb. 26
Saitama Super Arena
UFC Lightweight Championship
Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson
Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo
Joe Lauzon vs. Anthony Pettis
Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch
Takanori Gomi vs. George Sotiropoulos
Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski
Norifumi Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee
Tiequan Zhang vs. Leonard Garcia
Riki Fukuda vs. Steve Cantwell
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso