After recent trips to Brazil and Australia were a huge success, the UFC is returning to another country with strong ties to MMA's roots: Japan. The promotion announced that the UFC will host an event at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on Feb. 26, 2012.
This will be the UFC's first trip back to Japan since 2000. Then owned by Semaphore Entertainment Group, the UFC had an event at Yokohama Arena in 1997 which featured a "heavyweight" tournament (with different weight limits than the classes used today), and wins by Kazushi Sakuraba, Randy Couture and Frank Shamrock. They visited in 1999 and twice in 2000, with a card headlined by a Tito Ortiz decision over Wanderlei Silva, and another which featured wins by Ortiz, Pat Miletich and Chuck Liddell.
Since then, the UFC has not returned to Japan, but MMA continued to flourish there, particularly with the success of the PRIDE Fighting Championships. (The UFC purchased PRIDE in 2007.) Several fighters who now fight for the UFC had success in PRIDE, like Quinton Jackson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, are still popular in Japan. The UFC roster also has plenty of Japanese talent, such as Yushin Okami (pictured), Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Takanori Gomi. No fights have been scheduled for the event yet, but it's a safe bet that it will be filled with both homegrown talent and fighters who have had success in Japan previously.
Saitama Super Arena has hosted NBA, NHL and WWE events, but MMA fans know it best for being the home of Dynamite!!!, the New Year's Eve fight cards in 2009 and 2010, which were run by DREAM, Sengoku (in '09) and K-1, as well as Yarennoka in 2007.
The UFC has bandied about a return to Japan for years, but coming off its hugely successful event in Brazil, the timing is perfect. Their quest to become an internationally known promotion has recently taken the UFC to Australia, Germany, England, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil, and now to Japan.