Nobody knew how the UFC was going to be received in the land of the rising sun when UFC 144 went down at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Since the glory days and the eventual collapse of Pride FC, many have said the sport was dead and buried.
Just over 20,000 hardcore Japanese fans disagreed. Although it was a small percentage of what they used to cram into the same venue, it was still nice to see Japanese fans give the UFC a chance. They were not disappointed.
North American fans needed to take notice. For the most part, last Saturday night was a perfect example of how to be an MMA buff or a sports buff in general.
Whether I’m at a local show or watching a UFC event, I’m disturbed a lot of times by the amount of Affliction-wearing meat heads who have no idea about what they are watching. Instead, these Jersey Shore-loving cavemen boo when the fight goes to the ground, they drink too much and start yelling obscenities at fighters, or they go on about how “they train UFC.”
What I love about Japanese fans is the overall respect and knowledge they have of the sport. They appreciate the UFC spectacle but they also honour the skills and athleticism of the fighters.
Japan is one of the birthplaces of the MMA. I think some people forget that it’s martial arts, which is based on a foundation of respect and discipline. These are virtues that are ingrained in the Japanese Bushido culture and many other cultures around the world.
Last Saturday night, fans applauded when a fighter got out of trouble with a smooth ground transition. They cheered when American fighter Tim Boetsch came back from the brink of defeat and beat the hometown favourite Yushin Okami with an amazing third-round knock out.
You could hear a pin drop when the main event featuring Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson took place. The fans were quiet because they were watching and appreciating the talent that was on full display.
I’m not saying that Canadian spectators need to emulate the Japanese sporting culture. Can you imagine going to a Vancouver Canucks game where everyone is dressed to the nines and they stay quiet? Wait … nevermind … the lower bowl has that covered.
What I’m trying to say is that North American culture can steal a few ideas of a philosophy that respects what the sport of mixed martial arts is, something beautiful to watch.