Time Capsule: Remembering UFC 23: Ultimate Japan 2

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On November 3, UFC will hold its 244 event at the world-famous Madison Square Garden. The event will be held nearly 20 years to the day of UFC 23 marking the mixed martial arts company’s 221st major show in the last two decades. UFC fans are anticipating the big show at MSG as Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz meet in a welterweight main event. Fans can visit mybonuscode.us prior to UFC 244 to wager on the main event fight. 

The UFC of today looks far different than the company it was in November 1999. With the UFC plowing forward as a mainstream sport with coverage on ESPN, BT Sport, and featured on other major networks, we look back at UFC 23: Ultimate Japan 2.

UFC 23: Ultimate Japan 2: The Background

UFC 23: Ultimate Japan was the company’s second foray into the Land of the Rising Sun. Combat sports had long been popular in the country and Japanese MMA promotion Pride Fighting Championships had hit a boom period. UFC fans can visit this review here before the next combat sports event and wager on the top fights in MMA.

Pride’s success led to UFC entering Japan and attempting its own promotion under the UFC banner inside the country. With financial issues mounting on the UFC’s side, a lack of local fight promoters, and mainstream media not picking up on MMA, the company’s Japan entity ended up stalling. However, at UFC 23, the company held a UFC Japan Champion tournament. The title would be vacated not long after.

Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) was still the owner of UFC at the time of the 23 cards. The company’s work to get sanctioning and grow the brand had taken its toll. Making matters worse, UFC Heavyweight Champion Bas Rutten vacated the title prior to competing in the main event versus ex-champ Kevin Randleman.

Seeking to move down to his natural weight class, Rutten dropped the belt but never fought again for UFC after suffering multiple training injuries. Rutten’s vacating of the UFC Heavyweight Championship led Randleman to fight Pete Williams for the belt.

UFC 23: Ultimate Japan 2: The Card

Randleman and Williams faced off on top of the card for the vacant UFC Heavyweight Championship. Meanwhile, Pedro Rizzo and Tsuyoshi Kosaka battled in an excellent fight just before it. In all, the card featured seven fights with five being decided by TKO, KO, or submission. In terms of excitement for the early days of UFC, the show delivered for the most part. 

The main event between Randleman and Williams along with the pre-main event of Rizzo and Kosaka were both selected as two of the best fights of 1999. The fight card in Japan would be the beginning of the end of an era in UFC, however.

Less than two years later, SEG sold the UFC to Zuffa for $2 million. The rock bottom price Zuffa bought the company for shows just where UFC was at the time. Zuffa became far more obsessed with making UFC successful and partnering with state athletic commissions, something SEG did not want to do or could not do.

Zuffa’s marketing plan and willingness to adapt the UFC led to more fan interest, greater exposure, and later on, mainstream acceptance. 

UFC 23: Ultimate Japan 2 is a time capsule of just where MMA was in the United States at the turn of the century. UFC had been taken as far as it could by SEG and it needed Zuffa’s fresh ideas to carry it further. In the octagon, it was some of the best fight action of the 1990s and early 2000s. UFC fans should not hesitate to go back and watch the card. 


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