UFC’s CEO Dana White, Mark Fischer, Mark Hunt on the new VTJ cooperation in Japan

UFC Japan press conference with Dana White
UFC Japan press conference with Dana White

UFC held a press conference on June 26, 2014 to kick off UFC Japan – Hunt versus Nelson. The biggest announcement of the day was UFC’s planned cooperation with Shooto’s Vale Tudo Japan to find top talent in the country.

VTJ has held four events to date in Tokyo, with a fifth as of this publication proceeding in Osaka. The concept was simple: put together a mix of strong fighters from different organizations in Japan and fighters from abroad. Kyoji Horiguchi and Naoyuki Kotani are two fighters who appeared on VTJ cards before selection from the UFC.

VTJ is currently holding a flyweight tournament, and now plans tournaments at 135 and 145 pounds which will see the winners of each garnering contracts with the UFC. While the promotion is said to be aired over eight months in 30 episodes, there was no information given on the number of contestants nor how quickly the tournament would progress.

Japanese teams have been anticipating the announcement for at least a year. Gyms such as BRAVE, Mach Dojo, Tribe Tokyo MMA, and Shu Katsumura from Groundslam have all put plans in motion for regular MMA competitions. All of them are aimed at giving young fighters opportunities to gain experience in the cage.

Needless to say, Japanese fighters will be clamoring for the opportunity to be in VTJ. MMA-in-ASIA’s Kei Kumaki was on hand at the press conference and asked the UFC’s key figures Dana White and Mark Fischer about the new cooperation, and got in a few questions with Mark Hunt as well.

MMA-in-ASIA: [For Dana White] In devising the Vale Tudo Japan concept, you said that you needed to adjust the TUF concept in order to satisfy Japanese fans. Is that because other TUFs are created for an audience who doesn’t know what MMA is?

Dana White: I think you are right. Japanese fans are very educated. But even in Japan, MMA is not more popular than soccer and baseball.

MMA-in-ASIA: Do you think MMA is a niche sport which only core fans enjoy? Do you want MMA to become a major sport like soccer?

Dana White: I can’t compare MMA and soccer, because soccer has a history of over 100 years. MMA’s history is just 15 years. MMA is too young to compare it to soccer or golf. The only thing I can do is to expand MMA all over the world.

MMA-in-ASIA: {For Mark Fischer] In the VTJ tournament, is there a type of fighter you would like to get from Japan? The striker or a grappler?

Mark Fischer: We will take anybody who can be, number one, successful, and number two, be an exciting fighter.

MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have a message for young fighters who will apply for this tournament because they want to fight in the UFC in the near future?

Mark Fischer: Yes, keep working hard. With our new cooperation with VTJ, we have a new opportunity for fighters to develop and be discovered by the UFC, so we have another channel for you to get into the UFC. So keep working hard to get up to the next level, and there’s going to be an even better chance for you to get into the UFC.

MMA-in-ASIA: [For Mark Hunt] So, for the opportunity to be in the UFC, a fighter must be exciting. Your style is striking and it is very exciting. In Japan there are many amateur fighters who will try hard to be exciting. What is your tip to keep the fight standing?

Mark Hunt: For my stuff, I practice a lot of submission defense training. Most of my game is submission defense because I want to go just hammer them, just bang. I’d rather hit them to get the submission out of them.

MMA-in-ASIA: What about takedown defense?

Mark Hunt: Yeah, all that, submission defense, on takedowns, I work on all of that.

MMA-in-ASIA: Weight cutting in Japan is only a recent development. Many of the Japanese fighters must face taller opponents. You often fight with taller opponents, but this time Roy Nelson is about the same height as you. What fight style will you show?

Mark Hunt: Well for my stuff, the plan is very simple. Like every fight I’m going to go and put some hurt on that person and that’s it. I’m the hurt person, you know. Whoever puts the must hurt on is the winner. That’s all I worry about.

MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have a message to Japanese fans?

Mark Hunt: Get your tickets to Saitama Super Arena because it’s going to be sold out and it’s going to be an awesome event.

All photos by Akihito “Ryuto” Tatematsu.

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UFC Japan press conference with Mark Hunt, Mark Fischer, Roy Nelson
UFC Japan press conference with Mark Hunt, Mark Fischer, Roy Nelson