Some scattered thoughts on UFC Fight Night: Japan


The UFC made their annual stop to Japan last night, and I have some thoughts. Those thoughts are scattered. And this is why this post is titled “Some scattered thoughts on UFC Fight Night: Japan.”

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The UFC took the Saitama Super Arena – one of the most famous arenas in MMA history – and turned it into a generic venue. Anik and Florian made obligatory references to the venue, and the broadcast included a wide shot of the arena (I think?) and at least one “hey look, we’re in Japan” B-roll shot of the local flavor. Otherwise, you wouldn’t fault the average casual viewer for assuming the fights were taking place at the Patriot Center or the Palms or the Hardrock in Hollywood, Florida.

Part of the reason has to do with attendance: the event drew a little over 10,000. For contrast, UFC 144 brought in 21,000 and the listed capacity is 36,500. The UFC dimmed the crowd lighting to the point that you couldn’t see past the first few rows. Compare that to this shot of the arena from Final Conflict 2005. The UFC could have avoided having to black out the crowd by not insisting on running a show in a venue that they struggle to fill a third of the seats. WWE, for instance, ran at Ryōgoku Kokugikan in Tokyo over the summer.

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I don’t know if it’s becoming a bigger issue or if I’m just noticing it more in my older fight fan age years, but the UFC production team seems more willing to frame shots that cut the fighters off at the waist. This is unconscionable in a sport where kicking is allowed. (Though, it would still be a huge mistake even if kicking weren’t allowed.) Fights should always have their entire bodies in frame, with zero exceptions.

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The main event between Josh Barnett and Roy Nelson didn’t wind up being a fight of the year contender, but it was a very good heavyweight fight that pushed a high pace throughout. You might not know that if you had just listened to the audio, as referee Steve Perceval could be heard chiding the fighters for more action in the clinch throughout. There was also an incident earlier in the evening when referee Neil Swailes stood up Li Jingliang and Keita Nakamura when Jingliang pulled a Wanderlei Silva and locked Nakamura up from the bottom and stalled.

I would prefer MMA get rid of standups and breaks entirely. Standups and breaks often give the defensive fighter incentive to stall the action, as was the case with Jingliang and Nakamura. Instead, referees should be instructed to tell fighters that they’ll have to work out of the position themselves AND start to enforce rules for timidity. This creates a situation where the defensive fighter has to open up, which should create a more offensive-oriented environment.

But the Perceval situation was even more concerning that a difference in philosophy. Barnett and Nelson were pushing a very high pace (for heavyweights), and both were doing work in the clinch and on the floor. Yet, Perceval seemingly gave them no time to rest, encouraging action throughout the fight. There seems to be a line of thinking among referees that the offensive/top fighter cannot be content to throw strikes from guard/half-guard/the clinch, but must be constantly on the look out to improve his or her position. This goes back to the earlier sentiment: Why is the onus on the offensive/top fighter? As long as the top fighter is not literally laying on his or her opponent, they should be allowed to work the position with strikes.

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I’ve long been a champion of the five-round non-title fight, and while it’s nice that the UFC expanded five rounds to all main events, they need to go further. The argument in the past was that it was ridiculous that regional fighters were fighting five rounds as long as there was some arbitrary belt on the line while top-end UFC challengers were stuck fighting three. Now we can focus that argument squarely within the UFC: it doesn’t make sense that Shinsho Anzai and Roger Zapata fight for the same length of time as Kyoji Horiguchi and Chico Camus.

Five Thirty Eight recently found that there are more upsets in women’s Grand Slam events in Tennis because they only play three sets. I suspect that is probably true in MMA given three rounds vs. five rounds. And that’s even more urgent with two title shots potentially in the balance at UFC 192 (Hendricks vs. Woodley and Bader vs. Evans).

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