Three of the biggest stars in Japanese mixed martial arts history will return for UFC's Sept. 20 show at the Saitama Super Arena in what is scheduled to be the most star-loaded show to date on Fight Pass.
Takanori Gomi (35-9, 1 no contest), Norifumi "Kid' Yamamoto (18-6, 1 no contest) and Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-5, 2 no contests) all return on a show that has already announced a heavyweight slobberknocker with Roy Nelson (21-9) vs. Mark Hunt (9-8-1) as the main event.
Gomi, "The Fireball Kid" was the star lightweight in Pride from 2004-07 during the Japanese MMA heyday. He's the only one of the three who has remained active in recent years, coming off a decision win over Isaac Vallie-Flagg at UFC 172 on Apr. 26, which got Fight of the Night honors.
Yamamoto and Akiyama have been absent from the sport for lengthy periods of time.
Yamamoto, 37, is the son of a former Japanese Olympic wrestler and coach, whose two older sisters, Miyu and Seiko, were well known for their model-like looks and world championships in amateur wrestling. As the youngest sibling and a college wrestling star, he became a celebrity fighter with national endorsements, and drew gigantic television ratings as one of the big stars during the era of New Year's Eve fighting shows on network television. His biggest fights drew more than 30 million viewers and he was the top star of the old Dream promotion from 2005-07. During that period, he and Urijah Faber were generally considered the two best featherweight fighters in the world.
But after serious elbow and knee injuries, he was never the same. His record over the last five years, since major knee surgery, is 1-5, and he went 0-3 in UFC with his last fight coming more than two years ago.
Akiyama, the famed "Sexyama," was a star in Japan before MMA, after winning a gold medal in judo for Japan in the 2002 Asian Games. He was recruited to MMA by K-1 to be a major star in the Hero's promotion, for a major match on the December 31, 2004, show at the Osaka Dome before 40,000 fans. It was billed as judo vs. boxing, with Akiyama facing former multi-time heavyweight title contender Francois "White Buffalo" Botha, who had fought Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko. Akiyama, giving up 60 pounds, won in 1:54 with an armbar in the type of a high-profile fight that created an instant star.
Akiyama continued to have success and garnered significant popularity, to where he was groomed to replace Kazushi Sakuraba as the country's MMA hero. The passing of the torch match was scheduled on December 31, 2006, also at the Osaka Dome, which drew a television audience of 27 million viewers. Akiyama won, but surveillance cameras later showed he rubbed oil on his legs so he was able to slip away from Sakuraba's low takedowns. He became a villain, which actually made him more marketable and famous, as the guy who cheated to beat a national idol. But he remained one of the country's biggest-name fighters before signing with UFC in 2009.
Now 38, Akiyama struggled in UFC, going 1-4, with his last fight two years ago, losing an uninspired decision to Jake Shields.
Besides Nelson vs. Hunt, also announced was Miesha Tate (14-5) vs. the debuting Rin Nakai (16-0-1), the Queen of Pancrase champion who has been promoted heavily in Japan by other promotions with very sexually suggestive workout videos, and a flyweight battle with Kyoji Horiguchi (13-1) vs Chris Cariaso (17-5).