For at least one more year, there will be MMA on New Year's Eve in the country of Japan.
It was announced last week that Dream will have a revival for one night at least, and that night will be one of the more important dates in MMA: December 31st. It was announced as a mixed martial arts and kickboxing card, co-promoted by Real Entertainment Co. Ltd. and Glory Sports International. The card appears to be ten MMA fights with three kickboxing matches, and the recent tradition of MMA fighters competing in kickboxing and vice versa will continue this year as well.
Participants are still to be announced, but three Japanese fighters that were present at the press conference announcing the event were Hiroyuki Takaya, Dream's featherweight champion as of their last event, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Satoru Kitaoka. Expect those three to be in fights on the card.
As for the kickboxing matches and potential kickboxers in MMA fights, look to Glory's kickboxing card in Japan at the beginning of December. On December 4, Glory is holding a one-night sixteen man kickboxing tournament and because Glory was able to get first crack at the kickboxing free agent market before the new K-1, this tournament is stacked with names. Entrants in Glory's one night tournament on December 4 include Semmy Schilt, Remy Bonjasky, Peter Aerts, Jerome LeBanner, Sergei Kharitonov, and Errol Zimmerman. All of these men have at least one or two fights in MMA, though for a few of them that's about it.
Out of those names, only Schilt was any kind of star in MMA as he made a decent mark in UFC and Pride before achieving even more success in K-1, winning the World Grand Prix four times. LeBanner is still a big name in Japan and that was proven when he was matched against Satoshi Ishii in an MMA fight back on the last day of 2010. It was agreed that LeBanner was a big name opponent for Ishii, but then during the fight it was LeBanner getting all of the cheers from the crowd instead of Ishii in his home country.
In addition to the fights scheduled, it wouldn't surprise this writer if Antonio Inoki's IGF pro wrestling promotion contributed to the card with a few pro wrestling matches involving MMA fighters and kickboxers. If that were to happen, figure on Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata to make another appearance as a tag-team (they wrestled on last year's Dream New Year's Eve card) as well as Kazuyuki Fujita (a former MMA fighter) and LeBanner being on the card in that format.
For the sport of MMA in Japan, it's a good thing that the New Year's Eve tradition is being continued this year. As of this moment, this may be more of a good-bye to the sport than a re-introduction. Dream is still basically dead as the co-promotion with GSI is mainly what is making this card possible. Any kind of continued running of Dream by Real Entertainment would likely have to be in co-promotion with GSI unless Real Entertainment somehow could get some money coming in to produce MMA cards. But the sport itself is in a grave depression in the country, having gone almost practically back to the days when it was a brand new sport, and the chance of any promotion becoming a long-running promotion that isn't a small Independent like Pancrase isn't good at all.
If the sport of MMA in Japan is destined to only be on the biggest stage once a year then so be it. It won't last that way forever. At some point the sport will begin to achieve new-found popularity, but because nobody can see into the future it's unknown when that time will come. But if MMA is guaranteed to be on national television in Japan on the one day of the year guaranteed to have more potential viewers than any other day of the year, it's not a bad day to be the sport's one big day of the year.Tags: DREAM, GLORY, K-1, MMA