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Network TV war brewing in Japan on New Year's Eve

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

After years off network television in Japan, two of Japan's major networks, and a third television station, will all be broadcasting MMA type events on New Year's Eve.

Nobuyuki Sakakibara's Rizin debut on the Fuji Network with Fedor Emelianenko, plus a taped fight from two nights earlier with Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Shinya Aoki, was announced last month. On Friday night's Bellator show, a battle between Gabi Garcia, a multiple time woman's world champion in Jiu Jitsu, and Lei'd Tapa (real name Seini Draughn) was announced. Draughn is a 32-year-old pro wrestler, who formerly wrestled for the TNA promotion that was on Spike until the end of 2014. She is the niece of Sionne Vailahi, better known as The Barbarian, who was an 80s and 90s well known pro wrestler as part of The Powers of Pain tag team.

Spike, which had originally slated to air the show in prime time on New Year's Eve, announced last night the show would air at 10 a.m. ET with a "Breakfast with Fedor" theme. 

Draughn excelled in volleyball and basketball growing up, and later spent four years playing for the Carolina Queens of the Independent Women's Football League. She worked for TNA in 2013 and 2014, before being released.

TBS, which stands for the Tokyo Broadcasting Systems, a second network, announced a show called Kyokugen, which is Japanese for Extreme, headlined by Masato vs. Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto in a five-round kickboxing match. The match is being billed as an exhibition due to Yamamoto's existing UFC contract.  

Masato Kobayashi, 36, was the golden boy of Japanese kickboxing a decade ago. He had retired six years ago with a 55-6-2 record. His most famous match was against Yamamoto at the 2004 New Year's Eve show at the Osaka Dome, which also featured Royce Gracie beating 6-foot-8, 485-pound sumo legend Akebono. The fight  where Masato, a 154-pounder, fighting Yamamoto, then 141 pounds, drew a 31.6 rating and an audience of about 34 million people. It's one of the most famous fights of the golden era of Japanese fighting. The number is even more impressive considering it went head-to-head with a highly rated Pride show as well as Japan's traditional New Year's Eve television concert. Masato was knocked down, but otherwise dominated the fight in winning a decision against his much smaller opponent. Yamamoto, who was Japan's biggest MMA star at one time, came from a wrestling background and is 1-3 as a kickboxer. But it was the loss to Masato in kickboxing that made Yamamoto Japan's most popular MMA fighter for several years.

Other fights haven't been announced for that show.

Tokyo MX, a third broadcast station, will be airing taped fights that night from the Real FC show that will take place on Dec. 5 at the Yokohama Bunka Gym.

A third live show on New Year's Eve will be the already announced Inoki Genome Federation show at Sumo Hall in Tokyo, which last week announced Aoki vs. Montanha Silva, a Brazilian giant. They are promoting it as a "50 centimeter difference in height," which is a huge exaggeration. Silva is 6-foot-10 and 320 pounds.  Aoki is 5-foot-11 and fights at lightweight and sometimes featherweight. That show is likely to be a mix of both MMA fights and pro wrestling matches. At this point, they don't have a television deal. It is still not clear in Japan whether Aoki vs. Silva will be a pro wrestling match or an MMA fight.

New Year's Eve became a tradition for major fighting shows on television in Japan, peaking in 2003 and 2004, but it had faded away in recent years.

Emelianenko's opponent was reported Friday night on Inside MMA as Tsuyoshi Kosaka, a former Japanese pro wrestling star who was awarded a win over Fedor via blood stoppage in a December 22, 2000 fight. Kosaka nailed Emelianenko with an elbow to the head, illegal under the rules in Japan, and Emelianenko bled badly and the fight was stopped in just 17 seconds. Emelianenko dominated the rematch, on April 3, 2005, in Pride, when the doctor ruled Kosaka unable to continue.

Jerry Millen, who is Emelianenko's U.S. rep, immediately denied the report. Japanese sources say that the opponent has not yet been chosen and that several names, Kosaka being one of them, are on the potential list. The list also includes other pro wrestlers with fighting backgrounds similar to Kosaka, and a giant former sumo star, Baruto Kaito (6-foot-6, 425 pounds) of Estonia who was a major star in that sport, before injuries ended his career in 2013. Because of his size and success in sumo "Baruto," is a well known name to the general public in Japan.

Kosaka, 45, who retired in 2006, was announced last week by Rizin as returning for the show.

Akebono, one of the biggest names in sumo history, now 46, will be working one of the shows, as both Rizin and Kyokugen are attempting to sign him. He was the champion for All Japan Pro Wrestling, but dropped his title last week and quit the promotion to sign with one of the groups.

Sakakibara has been doing media interviews in Japan pushing that Japan's biggest current pro wrestling stars, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura (who has done MMA in the past), Kazuchika Okada and Kota Ibushi (who was rumored for the show but is now seriously injured with a herniated disc in his neck) should do his show.

The shows are all about drawing television ratings and putting famous people in fights, or promoting weird looking matches, like Aoki vs. Silva, with the idea that the size difference will cause television viewers who aren't fight fans and have no real understanding of fighting, to be intrigued.  The prime example was the 2003 fight with Akebono vs. Bob Sapp, which drew 54 million viewers out of a total population of 128 million that year on New Year's Eve.

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