UFC President Dana White and Zuffa LLC Asia Executive Vice President and Managing Director Mark Fischer made the announcement on Tuesday at the Shinjuku Wald 9 Theater, revealing that the world's leading MMA promotion will head to the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on Feb. 26, 2012.
The entire Japanese UFC roster - Yushin Okami, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, Hatsu Hioki, Michihiro Omigawa, Takanori Gomi, Riki Fukuda, and Takeya Mizugaki - were said to be possibilities for the Japanese event by Fischer but the official card is scheduled to be announced in November.
It is also not yet known if the UFC Japan event will be part of the numbered UFC series or a "Fight Night" event. Fischer stated, "We're not identifying that today but it will be, you can be assured, a major, major event here."
"It's been over 10 years since a UFC event was held in Japan and we're pumped to bring the fastest growing sport in the world there once again," said UFC President Dana White via video message. "Japan has played a huge role in getting the sport to where it is today. UFC stars such as [Quinton] "Rampage" Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, [Antonio Rodrigo] "Minotauro" Nogueira all made names for themselves fighting in the Pride organization and dozens more fought in front of the passionate Japanese fans at some point in their careers. Japan has also produced world class fighters such as [Yoshihiro] Akiyama, [Takanori] Gomi and Yushin Okami. They have all headlined major UFC events all over the world. Now, this February, the wait is finally over – we're coming back to Japan."
Mark Fischer, who was also responsible for the NBA's expansion in Asia, noted the economic benefits associated with the UFC returning to Japan.
"To give another idea of the scope of this event, it will literally be witnessed by millions of fans all over the world," stated Fischer. "Moreover, this event will be a boon for Japan's economy. For example, UFC 100 in Las Vegas generated more than $51 million for the local economy. In Sydney, Australia, our two events generated over $30 million for the local economy. We're pleased to bring the similarly anticipated event to Saitama and the greater Tokyo area."
The Saitama Super Arena, the former home of the defunct Pride Fighting Championships, and current home to DREAM, will be configured for 20,000 seats.
Fischer also made it clear that it will not take the UFC another 10 years to return to Japan after this February, giving the outline behind the UFC's planned expansion into Asia.
"Let me also say that while UFC Japan in 2012 will be the first event for Zuffa in Asia, it certainly won't be the last," said Fischer. "We hope to make UFC Japan an annual fixture on our calendar and we also have plans to follow-up with a series of high quality events across Asia,"
To fit with American broadcast plans, the UFC Japan event is scheduled to begin 10:00 a.m. local time, with the main card running from 12:00 noon to approximately 3:00 p.m. No details were given as to the event's local broadcast plans, however the UFC currently has deals in place with TV Bank, NTT Plala's "Hikari TV" and WOWOW satellite TV.
The UFC first visited Japan in Dec. 21, 1997 for "Ultimate Japan," an event which saw the birth of Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba. The UFC returned twice more in November 1999 and April 2000 for UFC 23 and UFC 25 respectively, but the upcoming Japanese UFC event will mark the first time the promotion has visited while under the Zuffa banner.