In a less-than-dreamy scenario, Fight Entertainment Group's Dream MMA brand has been ousted from primetime television on the Tokyo Broadcasting System.
The change comes after the debut edition of Dream garnered lackluster ratings in a make-or-break scenario for FEG and TBS.
The event grabbed only an 8.9 percent rating average on TBS in primetime, according to Japan's Video Research Ltd. The telecast's peak was a 12.7 for the Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic bout against Tatsuya Mizuno (Pictures), which was edited into the main event slot due to the no-contest debacle in the Shinya Aoki (Pictures)-Gesias Calvancante (Pictures) fight -- the show's true main event. TBS was fifth out of the six major Japanese networks during the time slot, besting only the perennial sixth-place finisher, TV Tokyo.
The ratings were crucial for the primetime continuation of FEG's MMA product. Rumors within the Japanese MMA community surfaced late last year suggesting that TBS could take FEG's Hero's promotion out of primetime due to sagging, lackluster ratings.
Although FEG's restructuring of its MMA program and the invention of Dream were celebrated by hardcore MMA fans, the move was not an altruistic one. Rather, it was an attempt to revitalize FEG's MMA product and ignite interest on television.
TBS is now scheduled to air the forthcoming April 29 Dream card on a week's tape delay in heavily edited one-hour installments. The broadcasts will air both in afternoon and after-midnight timeslots. However, future Dream events will air live on SkyPerfecTV pay-per-view.
The announcement is in no way a death knell for the revamped promotion. Pay-per-view is not a lucrative medium in Japan, though, as it is in North America. Being forced out of primetime does heavily slash advertising revenues for FEG, which will limit the ability for the promotion's growth in the foreseeable future.
For the time being, FEG continues to have television success with its central kickboxing brands, K-1 and K-1 Max. The April 9 K-1 Max telecast on TBS garnered a 12.4 percent rating average in primetime on TBS, and the April 13 K-1 telecast in primetime on Fuji Television scored a 12.8 percent. The only sports programming to score higher thus far in April was the April 5 Nippon Professional Baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers, which notched a 13.8 rating on NHK.
Despite the disappointing news, there is some measure of a silver lining for hardcore fans. With the shift to pay-per-view, Dream's future events will air unedited, in their entirety. This will resolve the usual griping regarding the heavily edited product created to air in a two-hour primetime television slot, which often leaves many fights unaired or shown only in highlight form. The April 29 Dream pay-per-view telecast is scheduled for roughly six hours of pay-per-view time, broadcasting live from 4:00 p.m. to 9:55 p.m. Tokyo time.
Also, with the shift out of primetime on TBS, the Dream pay-per-view telecast will feature the return of Daisuke Sato, the influential video director who was responsible for the much-celebrated pre-fight promo packages for Pride.
Nontraditional PPV for Shooto
Leading Shooto promoter Sustain has announced a pay-per-view of its own, revealing that the May 3 Shooto Tradition: Road to 20th Anniversary card at JCB Hall in Tokyo will be available live on SkyPerfecTV in Japan.
Although not new to the medium, pay-per-view events are a rarity for pro Shooto. In the past, a few of Sustain's larger Shooto cards, including some of its year-end events, aired on pay-per-view. However, there has not been a live Shooto pay-per-view telecast since May 2006, when Sustain and Japanese fashion label Devilock teamed up for the Shooto The Devilock event in support of Devilock's 10th anniversary.
The live pay-per-view telecast will air from 5:00 p.m. to 9:25 p.m. Tokyo time on Perfect Choice on SkyPerfecTV. The telecast will air a main card projected to offer seven fights, which currently features "Lion Takeshi" Takeshi Inoue (Pictures) against Trenell "Savant" Young, Yasuhiro Urushitani (Pictures) facing Ryuichi Miki (Pictures), Rumina Sato (Pictures) squaring off with Akitoshi Tamura (Pictures), Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) tangling with David Baron (Pictures), and the main event rematch between Takashi Nakakura (Pictures) and Ganjo Tentsuku (Pictures) for the vacant Shooto 154-pound world title. The two Class B preliminary bouts between Sakae Kasuya (Pictures) and Hayate Usui (Pictures), and Noboru Tahara (Pictures) and Katsuya Murofushi (Pictures) may be slotted into the live telecast as time permits.
Kawamura Meets ‘The Monster'
Sengoku parent company World Victory Road has announced that up-and-coming Pancrase product Ryo Kawamura (Pictures) will get another baptism by fire when he takes on returning veteran Kevin Randleman (Pictures) on the May 18 card at the Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo.
Kawamura, who was upset by veteran Keiichiro Yamamiya (Pictures) in December, got back into the win column on Sengoku's debut offering in March, when he took a unanimous decision over previously undefeated Brazilian Antonio Braga Neto (Pictures).
The 36-year-old Randleman has fought only once in the last two and a half years, having been submitted in October 2006 by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. In that time span, Randleman's battles have been largely medical, as the former UFC champion faced both a life-threatening lung infection and a gruesome staph infection.
For Kawamura, the bout represents another leap up in competition, which is not necessarily unfamiliar territory. In September 2006, after being crowned Pancrase's Neo Blood tournament champion, Kawamura took on Pride veteran Daniel Acacio (Pictures) in a bout many deemed as a mismatch that would bury the novice Kawamura. After absorbing punishment through the first round, Kawamura rallied back, punching Acacio out in the second round for the improbable upset.
Kunioku Returns in Cow Country
One of Japan's longest tenured veterans will continue his comeback in the heart of America's dairy land.
At 31 years old and with more than 60 bouts behind him, two-time Pancrase champion Kiuma Kunioku (Pictures) is looking to get a new lease on his career at lightweight. Kunioku will next see action May 3, when he takes on Midwest vet Joel Blanton (Pictures) in his second bout at 155 pounds. The fight is set for Dave Strasser (Pictures)'s Freestyle Combat Challenge card in Racine, Wisc.
Over a four-year stretch Kunioku won only once, going 1-6-2. Kunioku, who debuted in the open-weight, palm-strike era of Pancrase in 1996, has competed as a welterweight for the better part of the decade. Looking to give his career a shot in the arm, Kunioku took the unusual route of training at Dave Strasser (Pictures)'s Freestyle Academy in Kenosha, Wisc. In his 155-pound debut last month, Kunioku stopped David Love in the second round with knee strikes.
Deep's Megatons Return, Femme Title Eliminator Scheduled
With the opening round a refreshingly comedic success, Deep big boss Shigeru Saeki has announced that the next round of the promotion's plus-sized Megaton Grand Prix will take place May 24 at Shinjuku FACE in Tokyo, with a high-quality female fight in tow as well.
The tournament, comprised of 16 220-plus-pound Japanese competitors, kicked off last month and fully capitalized on its comedic novelty. The quarterfinal round will feature Waka Arashi (Pictures), Shunji Kosaka, Ken Orihashi (Pictures), Shunsuke Inoue (Pictures), Yoichi Babaguchi (Pictures), Mamoru Nakamura (Pictures) and prohibitive tournament favorite Yusuke Kawaguchi (Pictures). However, no quarterfinal pairings have been announced.
The card will also feature a 106-pound women's title eliminator between Naoko Omuro (Pictures) and Misaki Takimoto (Pictures). The two met previously in GCM's Cage Force last November, when they fought to a hotly competitive and spirited draw. The winner of their second go-around will meet Deep 106-pound queen Miku Matsumoto (Pictures) for the title in August.
Takimoto, one of female MMA's iron women, has already faced Miku three times, handing the current champ her first two losses early in her career. In their third contest last June, Miku dominated Takimoto, taking a first-round submission via armbar.
In undercard action, Toshiaki Kitada (Pictures) faces Ippo Watanuki (Pictures), Yasushi Kitazaki (Pictures) meets Sotaro Yamada (Pictures), Isamu Sugichi squares off with Takafumi Otsuka, and Sen Nakadai (Pictures) takes on Yoshitomo Watanabe (Pictures).
Star-Studded ReMix Semis Set
The weekend of MMA in Japan gets started Friday, when Smackgirl continues its 2008 ReMix tournament series at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.
In the semifinals of Smackgirl's 115-pound ReMix tournament, undefeated female superstar Megumi Fujii (Pictures) will take on South Korean muay Thai champ Seo
Hee Ham (Pictures), and underrated American Lisa Ward (Pictures) meets Brazilian stalwart Ana Michelle Tavares (Pictures).
The pound-for-pound standout Fujii submitted accomplished grappler Cindy Hales (Pictures) in February to advance to the semifinals, and Ham knocked off Saori Ishioka (Pictures).
Ward, arguably the top female in the 105-pound weight range, submitted Ayumi Saito (Pictures) with a nasty toehold in her 115-pound quarterfinal in February, and Tavares slickly submitted strong up-and-comer Kyoko Takabayashi (Pictures) with a triangle inverted armbar.
In the semifinals of the open-weight World ReMix tournament, former Smackgirl 128-pound champion Hitomi Akano (Pictures) will take on current open-weight Smackgirl champ Hiroko. Josh Barnett (Pictures) understudy Ginele Marquez (Pictures) also meets pro-wrestler Atsuko Emoto (Pictures).
Akano lost her Smackgirl title to rival Takayo Hashi (Pictures) last September and was then edged out in November by Vanessa Porto (Pictures) by split decision. The AACC product rebounded in the ReMix tournament's opening round in February, when she heel hooked female MMA pioneer Megumi Yabushita (Pictures) in the second round. Hiroko, a dominatrix turned prizefighter, hasn't fought since September, when she captured the Smackgirl open-weight title against Yoko Takahashi (Pictures).
Marquez authored a breakout performance last July. She put a lopsided beating on Megumi Yabushita (Pictures) en route to a commanding decision win, but she was defeated by highly touted Canadian prospect Sarah Kaufman (Pictures) last October. Emoto earned her way into the semifinals in February by taking a decision over the equally charismatic Keiko Tamai (Pictures).
In undercard action, Windy Tomomi (Pictures) takes on a fellow kickboxing convert in Azuma, who will be making her MMA debut in a 119-pound affair. In a battle of undefeated prospects, Kaneko Takeshita takes on Rin Nakai (Pictures) at 128 pounds.
Pancrase Kings in Korakuen Sunday
Pancrase brings a host of champions to Korakuen Hall on Sunday for the next installment of the 2008 Shining Tour, although the injury bug has taken a bite out of the card.
With welterweight King of Pancrase Kastuya Inoue dropping to lightweight, Pancrase had hoped to crown a new champion in a bout between Bryan Rafiq (Pictures) and Takuya Wada (Pictures). However, Rafiq suffered a knee injury in training.
Rafiq's management confirmed to Sherdog.com that the partially torn ACL will only keep the Roan Carneiro (Pictures) student out for a month, but he has been replaced by IFL veteran Jason Palacios (Pictures), who will now meet Wada in a provisional King of Pancrase title bout.
Palacios, who turned pro less than two years ago, raised his stock considerably last September when he gave highly touted Pancrasist Satoru Kitaoka (Pictures) major difficulties in a bout that was expected to be an easy victory for Kitaoka. Palacios dominated early, battering Kitaoka on the feet before losing an eventual split decision.
With Pancrase largely adopting the weight classes prescribed by the unified rules, many of the organization's notable welterweights -- such as Inoue, Satoru Kitaoka (Pictures) and Koji Oishi (Pictures) -- have opted to continue their careers at 155 pounds, clearing the way for the veteran Wada in the division. Wada has won three straight, last taking a commanding decision over Seiki Ryo (Pictures) in November.
Two other Pancrase champions will also be on the bill in non-title action. The recently married Yuki Kondo (Pictures), Pancrase's longtime light heavyweight champ who now owns the awkward status of "provisional middleweight King of Pancrase" after officially dropping to 185 pounds, will take on veteran Keiichiro Yamamiya (Pictures). Yamamiya is fresh off his upset of up-and-comer Ryo Kawamura (Pictures) in December.
Also, heavy-hitting lightweight Pancrase king Shoji Maruyama (Pictures), who crushed Artur Oumakhanov (Pictures) in January to win the title, will take on the aforementioned Koji Oishi (Pictures) in a non-title affair. Two-time Pancrase welterweight champion Katsuya Inoue (Pictures) will make his lightweight debut on the card, taking on Russian sambist Dzhamal Kurbanov.
Murata Back in Seoul
Sunday will also see Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) pupil Ryuichi Murata (Pictures) head back to South Korea for the next installment of Spirit MC in Seoul.
The 31-year-old judoka enjoyed his best success to date in '07, dominating his way through Spirit MC's heavyweight grand prix. Finishing all three of his tournament foes, including iron-headed South Korean Jung Gyu Choi (Pictures), Murata earned the right to challenge current Spirit MC heavyweight champion Denis Kang (Pictures). That bout has not yet even been discussed, though, due to Kang's participation in Dream's forthcoming middleweight tournament. In the meantime, Murata will take on Seung Bae Whi (Pictures).
Whi, like Murata, is coming off a victory over Jung Gyu Choi (Pictures), taking a majority decision in January. The victory pushed Whi's record to 4-0 inside the confines of Spirit MC.
Murata, who is undefeated in his last seven bouts, has faced four South Koreans in as many outings, finishing all of them by knockout or submission.