New Year's Eve Japanese Events: 2014

In the mid aughts, Japan was showing some of the best events in mma history on New Year's Eve. Japanese mma New Year's Events hit their apogee in 2006. Pride Shockwave, on December 31, 2006, featured a main event for the ages in Mark Hunt vs. Fedor Emelianenko. Big Nog took a close decision over Josh Barnett. Hidehiko Yoshida was in a freak show fight with James Thompson. Gomi channeled Pele as he soccer kicked Mitsuhiro Ishida into oblivion. The event was generally very exciting and loaded with talent.

The New Year's show of 2007 paled in comparison. Pride FC was dissolved as a brand by the UFC in 2007. This didn't stop former Pride staff and M-1 Global from putting on the "Yarenoka" New Year's special on December 31, 2007. In contrast to Shockwave 2006, Yarenoka was just kind of 'meh'. Fedor Emelianko was put in the freak show role yet again submitting 7' 2", 367 lb. Hong Man-Choi. Mitsuhiro Ishida was able to take a decision over Gilbert Melendez. Shinya Aoki and Hayato Sakurai took victories over less than overwhelming competition.

The point is that Japanese mma events on New Year's Eve have been both less competitive and popular as they were at their height in 2006. From 2007 till 2013, K-1 put on some combination kickboxing/mma events and the Inoke Genome Federation had pro-wrestling/mma. Sengoku and Dream came and went.

All history aside, New Year's Eve mma 2014 in Japan looks to be mediocre at best.

DEEP Impact, which usually holds events at the 2,000 seat Karouken Hall, looks to fill as many seats as possible in the capacious 67,000 seats of the Saitama Super Arena. The fight card, aside from two Americans and one Korean fighter, consists entirely of Japanese fighters. The main event has UFC veteran Yoshiyuki Yoshida challenge for the lightweight title against Satoru Kitaoka. Reports in October 2014 indicate that the event is not scheduled to show on Japanese broadcast television. The attendance numbers and public perception of the event will be a measure of how popular mma is today in Japan. It airs on the Fight Network and possibly on Axs TV.

The Inoke Genome Federation (IGF) continues the New Year's Eve tradition of freak show fights alongside intriguing match ups. The main event has gold medal Olympian Satoshi Ishii in a rematch against Mirko Cro-Cop. Ishii had an 8 fight win streak snapped by a cut from Cro-Cop earlier this year. Ishii was defeated by Fedor Emelianenko in the IGF 2011 New Year's Eve main event. He bounced back last year with a dominant performance over former UFC champ Tim Sylvia. Will the UFC or Bellator ever have interest in the 11-3 Olympian? With a record of 11-1, 5' 9" 329 pound American Chris "Honey Bear" Barnett takes on sumo wrestler Suzakawa at super-heavyweight. You can't make this stuff up. Russian prospect Ramazan Esenbaev (7-1) takes on Kiuma Kunioku (34-24-9). Josh Barnett will be featured in a pro-wrestling bout. Shinya Aoki gets a tomato can in 6-6-3 Yuki Yamamoto.

Japanese New Year's Events have lost significance as the UFC puts out close to 50 events a year. This isn't to say that Japanese MMA will never make a comeback. It was, after all, more popular in Japan than it was in the USA at one point. The UFC seems to have no plans to revisit Japan in 2015. This doesn't necessarily mean that they won't. Some of the fighters on these New Year's cards may also end up fighting in the UFC, WSOF, Bellator or even Titan Fighting Championships. They may even pop up again in Asian organizations such as One FC. These two New Year's Events are not completely irrelevant. The dwindling interest in Japanese mma intersecting with the rise of western mma just makes them seem less significant.