Geo-Blocked Out: Broadcast Restrictions Holding Back International JMMA Fans

The following for Japanese mixed-martial-arts is a diehard one within the MMA sphere, although it has never been one that has been given lots of resources. While challenges like timezones and language barriers are expected and to an extent can’t be solved, a big issue for international viewers has always been the lack of accessibility to shows.

For many viewers, they don’t mind if the commentary or presentation of a show is strictly Japanese. In many instances, the worry is less about picky options for a broadcast and more about the presence of a broadcast at all.

There has very often been concern from international fans about the accessibility of shows, as a large number of JMMA (Japanese MMA) promotions have their content locked behind services sold strictly to the Japanese population.

Fans are often left with bootleg options to find smaller shows, having to use VPNs (Virtual Private Network), third-party streams to view shows or just missing events altogether.

“Right now we went into the old school times and some underground practices from the past when we want to find the stuff that we’re interested in,” said Daniel Dziubicki, a JMMA viewer from Warsaw, Poland.

The promotions who have brought content to the international market never guarantee the continuation of it, causing stress for many fans even down to the final days leading up to an event.

With RIZIN 22 And 23 On The Horizon, Concern Built

The unpredictability of an event has presented itself yet again this week, as there was confusion as to how fans outside of Japan would be able to view the current top national promotion, RIZIN.

The promotion is currently scheduled to hold their returning events on August 9th and 10th at the Pia Arena MM in Yokohama, Japan, although there has not been an official statement on how international fans can view the show.

“It looks like FITE will have the RIZIN.22 and .23 events on a delayed basis.. like 2-3 days,” KnockdownNews was told on Thursday via email from Keith Evans of FITE, a service which has distributed RIZIN events internationally for the past few years. FITE currently does not have any upcoming RIZIN events listed in their catalogue, although they said to check back in a week.

On Monday, Shingo Kashiwagi of RIZIN said the shows will be available internationally, telling fans to “stay tuned.”

RIZIN, the promotion which is a modern emulation of former top Japanese promotions like DREAM, World Victory Road, HERO’S and of course Pride FC, has often had troubles before with international rights. Fans can recall numerous other recent instances where they were able to purchase an event, although availability was only provided in the 11th hour. For many, it has caused frustration.

“It makes you look small fry that you couldn’t hash this stuff out weeks or months beforehand,” said Andrew Benjamin, who co-hosts the “We Are RIZIN” podcast along with J. Christian Gary.

Viewers Worry That Broadcasts Are Having Short-Term Trend Away From Accessibility

The issue with RIZIN specifically has been a recurring pattern, as viewers recalled in interviews that many events recently including RIZIN 14, 21 and a crossover RIZIN event with Bellator had last-minute broadcast troubles.

“Six months ago I would have been like ‘nah it actually feels pretty chill’ … I do feel like it’s gotten a little harder [to watch shows],” said Danny Mitchell, a long-time JMMA viewer from Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Of course like any niche interest in existence, the evolution of the internet has only aided accessibility. It would be an unfair omission to not mention that on a much larger scale, things have trended towards more accessibility.

And sure, American fans had the chance to view the early days of JMMA on television, although through pay-per-view and channels like HDNet that were only available through large television packages, following the scene didn’t come at a cheap price. It was noted by many fans that the early days of their fandom relied on Limewire and forum clips to get what information they could. 

What Keeps The Fans Coming Back

While broadcast challenges have always been an issue for international JMMA  fans, the fanbase has been unrelenting. Going back as far as MMA has been considered a “thing,” so has a following for events from Japan. For many, what makes the shows special is the theatrics and presentation.

“You watch so many fights and after a while they can turn into a big blur, but you remember that time that a fighter walked out to classical music wearing a huge cape over their head,” said Monsneaks, a twitter user from Australia who has gained a following for discussing a wide scale of popular to obscure MMA.

Others mentioned how RIZIN’s attention to video packages and other supplementary content like “RIZIN Confessions” do a uniquely interesting job at building storylines.

“Japan doesn’t really tend to try to copy others too much. It’s quite insular in some ways, which has it’s good and bad points,” said Stewart Fulton, a commentator for Japanese MMA promotion Pancrase, discussing the uniqueness of Japan’s fight culture.

It’s such a tight-knit group of people”

The way that JMMA has sometimes rejected their international fans has made the fanbase small but also loyal. The exclusivity of the scene draws frustration and even confusion from some, but others have embraced it in a way.

“It’s such a tight-knit group of people because the vast majority of people have no patience or even interest in this whole sphere,” said Luke, a viewer from Leicester, England, UK, who has watched JMMA since 2011. “I own a bigger part of it [the community] just by being here. I think we all do individually,” he went on to say.

Even when putting broadcast restrictions aside, JMMA is not a product made for everyone in the global market. To ask a viewer to watch live is often asking for them to put their sleep schedule into a spin, as shows often start past midnight and go into the early mornings. As history has shown though, with all the restrictions and issues that come with the experience, there will always be a loyal fanbase that’s willing to find a way to watch, no matter how hard.


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