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DEEP 50th Impact: 10 Years of Freaks, Fat Guys and Fun

Japanese MMA has a reputation for freak shows, the unusual and above all else – putting entertainment above the sport in MMA. A large part of that reputation is due to Shigeru Saeki. The former Public Relations Director of PRIDE fighting championship, mastermind of PRIDE Bushido and the boss of Deep has a penchant for the fun and the bizarre.

Deep's 10th Anniversary 50th Impact card is an excellent example of the kind of bizarre MMA that Saeki loves. A superhero will face a 300-plus pound Thai boxer. A volleyball player/pro wrestler/actor will fight a karateka. Shinya Aoki and Sanae Kikuta will fight MMA first-timers and both veterans will bring in significant weight advantages. There are also a multitude of name fighters involved in very reasonable bouts but Deep will always attempt to keep things fun, and for that reason, it has become one of the most successful and active promotions in Japan over the past 10 years.
Shigeru Saeki started his business career as a commercial photographer, at one point employing over 100 people but eventually his love for MMA and pro wrestling led to him to dropping photography and applying his business acumen to combative sports.

As was fitting for a photographer who hired such an enormous staff, Deep 1st Impact was a ambitious event. Held at the 7,500-seat Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium in Nagoya, Saeki brought in big names from the beginning including Royler Gracie, Ikuhisa Minowa, Paulo Filho and American Top Team co-owner and head instructor Ricardo Liborio for his one and only MMA fight. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Hayato Sakurai, Akihiro Gono, Yuki Kondo and Kiyoshi Tamura were also among the participants in the promotion's first few events but the cost of bringing in these fighters was steep and Deep's early days were financially disastrous. If it weren't for the significant capital that Saeki built during his time as a photographer, he would have never had an opportunity to move on and learn from his lessons.

As Deep matured as a promotion local fighters such as Shinya Aoki and Ryo Chonan started to rise to the top and headline cards, drastically reducing operating costs but building stars is not what has defined Deep as a promotion.

Until Deep arrived on the scene in 2001, Shooto and Pancrase had dominated second-tier MMA in Japan but their top fighters had no chance of fighting each other due to old pro wrestling politics. Saeki's new promotion represented neutral ground and brought in none of the pro-wrestling bad blood that hindered any co-promotion opportunities. For the first time, Shooto and Pancrase fighters were able to fight on the same card without fear of being exiled. Deep 50th Impact is clear evidence of the relationships and unity that Saeki has worked for within Japan with fighters from nearly every promotion in Japan on the event.

While this Sunday's Deep show is a celebration of the 50th Impact event (and the 10-year anniversary), they have actually held well over 100 events all over Japan. With doors starting to open between promotions, Saeki then set his sights on building MMA at a grassroots level with the "clubDeep" series in smaller cities and regional gyms, the yearly "Future King" rookie tournaments, Deep X grappling events and even an Oyaji (Old Man) event. Although these smaller events weren't exactly good for business, they helped define the promotion. Anybody who was interested in fighting would get an opportunity to fight.

Deep's real charm lies in its diversity and as a byproduct of that, the entertainment factor. The fact that MMA is entertainment as well as a sport is a key aspect of the promotion as pro wrestlers, funny fighters, weak fighters, fat fighters are booked alongside the more serious and skilled mixed martial artists. Deep has no problems with the sport taking a backseat to entertainment.

One year before DREAM held it's "Superhulk" tournament, DEEP had the Megaton GP for overweight fighters with the opening round being an eating contest (which the portly Saeki participated in). Fat audience members got free drinks and employed fat ring girls. The event drew a collective sigh from purists when it was first announced but by the end of the tournament all who saw the events admitted that it was undeniably fun and it drew in massive (in every sense of the word) crowds. Freak shows had always seemed out of place in regular events but a whole event to celebrate it was an entirely different thing.

Some attempts at entertainment have not worked out as well as the Megaton GP - Stalker Ichikawa vs. Hirohito Namekawa and the Deep Unofficial Heavyweight Title bout at DEEP 33 spring to mind, but the atmosphere at a Deep event is always primarily "fun". For the last two years Deep has hosted a Fan Thanksgiving Festival which mostly consists of MMA fighters trying their hand at pro wrestling. If Saeki feels that event needs a little extra boost, he has even been known to get in the ring himself and has had tag-team matches with Shinya Aoki and Masakazu Imanari in the past.

Outside of Deep, Saeki has also been instrumental in shaping the landscape of Japanese MMA on a broader level.

Saeki masterminded Pride Fighting Championships' highly successful Bushido series and proved to other promoters that the lightweight fighters could also draw crowds and a promotion could exist without the need for heavyweights to support them. This idea has obviously been brought over to Pride's spiritual successor – Dream and without Saeki, the promotion would certainly not exist in it's current form.

Female MMA in the West is starting to gain some momentum through Strikeforce and Bellator, but Japan is still undoubtedly the most active and supportive place for female fighters due to Saeki. When cracks started to show in leading women's promotion Smackgirl in 2006, Saeki opened his arms to fighters and even gave them opportunities to headline events – something no other Japanese promotion had done. Although the rule set is sometimes crippled, women have always been afforded the same opportunities under Saeki's care, and when Smackgirl finally folded, Saeki came on as an advisory for Jewels which rose in its place.

Deep 50th Impact is probably hard to understand for Western fans and people will undoubtedly express frustration with some of the match-ups (and the inability to actually see the event). Don't try to understand though, just enjoy it - Shigeru Saeki will take every measure to make sure that you have a good time.

DEEP 50th IMPACT - October 24th 2010, JCB Hall in Tokyo, Japan

DEEP Lightweight Title Fight
14. Katsunori Kikuno (70.3 kg/ 155 lb) vs. Nobuhiro Obiya (70.3 kg/ 155 lb)

DEEP Welterweight Title Fight
13. Yuya Shirai (77.0 kg/ 170 lb)vs. Shigetoshi Iwase (77.0 kg/ 170 lb)

12. Masakazu Imanari (62.0 kg/ 136.5 lb) vs. DJ.taiki (61.9 kg/ 136.4 lb)
11. Shinya Aoki (70 kg/ 154 lb ) vs. Yokthai Sithoar (66.5 kg/ 146.6 lb)
10. Sanae Kikuta (78.8 kg/ 173.7 lb) vs. Lee Sak Kim (75.8 kg/ 167.1 lb)
9. Minowaman vs. Chang Hee Kim
8. Ryo Chonan (77.0 kg/ 170 lb) vs. Jun Hee Moon (76.7 kg/ 169.1 lb)

Special Exhibition Match
Katsuaki Furuki vs. Akira Shoji

7. Takafumi Otsuka (61.9 kg/ 136.5 lb) vs. Yoshiro Maeda (62 kg/ 136.7 lb)
6. Katsuyori Shibata (85.8 kg/ 189.2 lb) vs. Yoshiyuki Nakanishi (85.8 kg/ 189.2lb)
5. Shoji (65.7 kg/ 144.8 lb) vs. Jin Suk Jung (64.9 kg/ 143.1lb )
4. Hidetaka Monma (77.0 kg/ 170 lb) vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto (76.6 kg/ 168.9 lb)
3. Ryuta Noji (91.7 kg/ 202.2 lb) vs. Hiroshi "Giant Voba" Nagao (90.5 kg/ 199.5lb)
2. Hiroshi "Iron" Nakamura (61.9 kg/ 136.5 lb) vs. Tatsumitsu Wada (61.8 kg/ 136.2 lb)
1. Isao Terada (62.0 kg/ 136.7lb) vs. Yusaku Nakamura (61.8 kg/ 136.2 lb )

DEEP Boss Shigeru Saeki: 81.85 kg / 180.4 lb

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