It’s been 9 years, 3 months and 19 days since I landed in Tokyo, a little bleary-eyed but eager to see what the Land of the Rising Sun would hold for me. The plan was to stay here a couple of years and then go back to England and start a career in my real […]
UFC on Fuel TV 8 (aka UFC Japan 2013): A Review
I’ll jump straight in where I left off in my last post, which was at the end of the weigh-ins on a cold and breezy day at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan. I spent the rest of the day thawing out and then getting ready for the big event the following day. I was still a little nervous about how many people would attend, but even if it was just me I was determined to enjoy the UFC being back in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Sunday morning started at about 6am for me, as I headed into Shinjuku Station and left my bag in one of the coin lockers (can’t beat Y400 for 24 hours of luggage storage), before using my phone to help me navigate my way onto the right train to get me into Saitama Shintoshin Station. Arrived about 07:40 and with the doors not due to open until 09:00 (thanks Dad for teaching me to never be late for events!) it gave me a little time to grab a bite to eat and then join the line. Met up with a friend and we were second and third in line. Apparently everyone else had more sense than us as they were leaving it a little later to venture into the cold around the stadium. And once again I realised that even though I’d doubled up on T-shirts under my sweatshirt, the wind was still biting. The few glimpses of sunshine didn’t really make it warmer (only marginally less cold) but there was nowhere to shelter without losing your place in the queue, so I battled through it. About an hour later we were in front of the main doors waiting to be let in. Decided to take advantage of the Photosphere on my phone, and take a nice all-around shot outside of the arena. Very cool if you’ve not seen this before. You can take a look at it here.
They had a separate line for everyone with digital tickets they had on their mobile phones; most of which were booked through the Ticket Board website. I have to say, I’ve booked tickets for events from all kinds of websites in Japan, and this one has to be the most frustrating experience. It was recommended by the UFC and they had the tickets available first, so I booked them back in December and paid a not insignificant amount of money for them. Once I’d paid though, I had no email confirmation of payment… nothing. Just a receipt from the convenience store saying keep this in case of problems. After about a week I got in touch with the company and asked them when I would receive my tickets. They responded that all Japanese ticket companies do this, it’s “Japanese custom” to avoid ticket scalping, and that I would get tickets about 2 weeks in advance. I guess they didn’t expect me to be living in Japan. So I replied asking why no other ticket companies do this in Japan (they all issue tickets instantly. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t receive a reply after that. I eventually got my tickets just one week before the event, but I and a number of others were worried if they were ever going to receive the tickets. Really think the UFC should use a different ticket distributor as their recommended option next time.
Right, gripe over and back to god things. So the doors opened and I went in (on feet I could no longer feel). The queues were building up but it didn’t look as busy as last time. No worries though as a couple of minutes later I was stepping into the arena itself, and starting to take everything in. Despite my gripes about the ticketing company, the seats were excellent, and I don’t think I could have been in a much better position. The right distance, and at just the right height to have a good angle into the octagon. I was a little anxious about how much better the view would be compared to last time, when I was in the cheaper class of seats. Within minutes though, and fears subsided.
As well as the photo above, before most people came in I also managed to take another photosphere view, giving you the chance to see what it’s like inside the Saitama Super Arena at a UFC event. Click here to have a look.
The crowd made their way into the arena behind me and about 45 minutes later the first fight was being announced and the fighters were coming out. The one thing I like about the non-US events is that they are special for the people in that country, and from the first fight starting, the vast majority of seats were filled up with people ready for a day of entertainment. In the US (particularly Las Vegas) the fans are spoiled somewhat with the number of events, and you often see people only drifting into the arena and taking their seats for the main card. The preliminary fights often provide some great matches, and this card was no difference.
With only 1 of the fights (the first) resulting in a stoppage, a few fans were disappointed with the fight card coming into the co-main event. Personally I enjoyed it; the fights were tightly contested and the lack of stoppages wasn’t due to lack of effort by any fighter. The Asian fighters all did very well, and were keenly supported by the locals. There were quite a few Americans there too, and a decent Brazilian contingent (am sure some of them travelled up from Aichi for the event). They were in excellent voice right from the start of the first fight… right up until the Brazilian guy they were cheering got knocked out midway through the 2nd round!
Things picked up with the co-main event though, featuring Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve vs Mark ”Super Samoan” Hunt. This was just the kind of fight the Japanese guys who were Pride FC fans loved; a really tall guy against a short big guy. And at 7′ tall, they don’t come much taller than Struve (see right). The fight was expected to be the kickboxing skills of former K-1 champion Mark Hunt, against the submission and ground skills of Struve. For some reason through, Struve just didn’t seem to want to take the fight to the ground. Hunt was always going to have the edge in striking, but Struve didn’t even seem keen to use his reach advantage and keep him at distance.
By the third round they were both on their last bits of energy, and throwing single punches seemed to take all of their energy. As the clock ticked down it seemed like it would just need one clean hit to finish the fight. And it came with a minute to go, violently. With both fighters with their hands down, Hunt struck with his left hand and found Struve’s jaw. The Skyscraper crumbled to the ground against the cage and the referee quickly jumped in to stop the fight. Struve later posted his X-ray up on Twitter (see below), showing a badly broken jaw. Very nasty and brutal stop for Mark Hunt, who has to be close to the top of the pile for a title shot.
The crowd loved the fight and Hunt’s victory, and got them into a great mood for the main event of the day. A battle of striker vs striker as Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva was taking on “All American” Brian Stann. Stann came in to a very good reception from fans, and had shown a lot of respect to Silva after the weigh-ins, moving to shake Silva’s hand after the staredown. Both fighters had been saying nothing but good things about the other in the build-up to the fight, and a lot of the crowd were anticipating that should Silva lose by a stoppage, this could signal the end to his fighting career. He is 36 now and had 47 professional fights over 17 years; most of them against skilled fighters, so is probably coming to the twilight of his career. Age isn’t stopping him exciting the crowd though, with his 2 previous fights winning “Fight of the Night” awards.
Indeed, his style is what the crowd love, and what many saw could be his undoing. Silva goes out first and foremost to entertain the crowd. If he wins, that’s great. If he loses, then he hopes the crowd was entertained and goes off to lick his wounds. but if the crowd goes home talking about his fight, then Silva is happy. He could have changed his style to focus on his strengths and his opponents weaknesses, and it would have probably resulted in him having a better record in the UFC, but would go against his policy of entertaining the crowd.
Now Stann knew this, and could have worked a strategy to counter Silva and not get into any swinging exchanges with the Brazilian, but thankfully he also put strategy to one side and it seemed they had an agreement to make a fight the crowd would be talking about for some time. Within a minute of the first round there was a frantic exchange of punches, both fighters looking to score significant damage early on. Stann was knocked to the ground, followed by Silva, but both came back strong. The first round went to Stann, with Silva looking tired going to his corner, but Stann had been cut on the bridge of his nose. As the hooter went at the end of the round, the usually tame Japanese crowd was on their feet.
Into the second round and the pace slowed considerably, which nobody was surprised at. The fight was scheduled for 5 rounds, but there was no way they would be able to keep the pace going for 25 minutes. Most were looking at this to be the round that Silva would leave his hands down once too many times, and pay for it.
But with under a minute to go in the 2nd round, Silva landed with a one-two to the head, and Stann fell to the ground, and Silva pounced. The first shot just grazed his head, but he found his accuracy with the next 2 shots. Stann’s head bounced off the canvas twice and strikes found his chin, and the referee was forced to step in and bring an end to the fight. The reaction from the crowd was wild. Everyone was on their feet as fan-favourite Silva sat on top of the octagon celebrating, before bowing to the fans.
Stann took some time to get in a position where he could stand, and he received a very good round of applause from the crowd for his performance and his help in securing another Fight of the Night award. Silva thanked the fans for supporting him, while Stann was equally gracious in defeat, declaring it an honour to have fought Wanderlei, and especially to fight him out in Japan. With the crowd still buzzing after the TKO, the lights arena lighting went up which signalled the end of the event, and people reluctantly started to make their way out of the arena. With a crowd of just under 15,000 watching in the arena, and Fuel TV receiving their highest ever ratings for a show by far, it has to be regarded as another big success for the UFC, and should ensure they are back in Japan for another event in the not-too-distant future.
And of course, a review of the event can’t go without paying tribute to the 2 lovely octagon girls used by the UFC. At this event we had Su Jung Lee (below) from South Korea, and Azusa Nishigaki (right), a native of Japan. As for who looked best, I’ll leave that to you. Lee certainly looked more comfortable in the role though, and was much more playful with the camera before the fights and between rounds.
And that’s it for the UFC in Japan for now. Fingers crossed they’ll be announcing another event here sometime soon. They have shown that if you put on a good card with Japanese and talented fighters, that the Japanese fans will get behind it.
I took plenty more pictures from the fights, and you can see them all here.