JMMA Monday: Grading International Accessibility

A wide shot of the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, which has a lit stage and lights around.
RIZIN’s New Year’s Eve event at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Credit: RIZIN FF

Accessing Japanese MMA has never been easy for international viewers. At any point in time, at least one promotion would have some issue that holds back international viewers from watching or even getting information about them.

Accessibility will always be a relevant issue. Two years ago, we spoke to viewers around the globe to understand how this issue has existed.

Some things have changed since that article was written. Some new avenues have opened for international viewers since then, but others have also closed. To provide a landscape of how the scene looks right now for international viewers, we put together a grading system this week.

To understand where the scene is at right now, we looked at five of the most prominent promotions at the moment. The grades, which are entirely subjective, come from a criteria that weighs: access to live and on-demand content, extra content that is catered to an international audience, and communication with international fanbases.

RIZIN: +B

The accessibility for RIZIN is a complicated thing, in my opinion. The promotion gets a “+B” rating from me, but it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily too accommodating.

Let’s start with the pros, then we’ll address the cons. To start: RIZIN has a long past of providing English broadcasts for their events – it hasn’t been there for every event, but it’s clear that they’re on keeping this around long-term.

RIZIN have always had English resources: they have an English public relations team, and variety content like “RIZIN CONFESSIONS,” which many would say is important when consuming the product, has subtitles.

The absolute biggest issue for RIZIN’s international outreach has been inconsistencies with broadcasting rights. Broadcasts of the event have changed hosts numerous times in recent years, and often these changes have not been communicated to the public properly.

In the days leading up to some events, people aren’t aware of if an English broadcast will be available, or if they will even be able to watch a stream at all.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that RIZIN has the intention to get international attention. And with that, they offer a fair amount of international-focused content and resources. However, issues with their broadcasts and consistently providing an English feed is what earns them a “+B,” as opposed to an A-type grade.

Pancrase: +B

Out of all the regional Japanese MMA promotions, Pancrase certainly provides the best accommodations for international viewers.

The promotion currently hosts pay-per-view events on Tiget, which gives you the option to view either a Japanese or English feed. Both broadcasts are done live and on-site for an event.

The way the promotion is set up isn’t as perfect as it was before. In what was arguably the golden age for the promotion’s international accommodations, it was available on UFC Fight Pass with English commentary. A big plus to this was not having to pay for each event, and instead getting access to the events through your monthly subscription. It is great for viewers that the English feed is still around, although each event being a pay-per-view is obviously not as viewer-friendly as landing on a streaming service.

Pancrase also puts out English content on their Youtube, including event digests and compilations. All of their current content makes it easy to follow the product on an event-to-event basis, and gives viewers the option to stay up to date without any delays or event blackouts.

DEEP Impact/DEEP Jewels: C

DEEP Impact and sister promotion DEEP Jewels have their pros and cons.

To start, their events are actually viewable internationally without having to jump through hoops. However, you are only able to watch live through pay-per-view. You are able to watch as many events as your budget allows you to, but it will add up if you want to catch every card, for example.

If there’s one thing that DEEP doesn’t have that the aforementioned Pancrase and RIZIN do, its content catered toward English audiences. There is no option for English commentary on DEEP cards, nor has that ever been a possibility. The chances of this becoming a thing are likely slim.

For what it’s worth, DEEP has gotten into the habit of uploading full fights onto their Youtube a few days after every event. So there is a free option, but you have to be patient if you’re going this route.

Shooto Japan: F

Out of the higher profile promotions in Japan, Shooto is easily the least accessible. Their events are currently broadcast on Abema, a service that is exclusive to Japan. If you want to catch these broadcasts, you must find a VPN that will allow you to bypass their geo-blocking (and that is not an easy feat – their service has many of the major VPN services blocked).

Like Pancrase, Shooto Japan was once also on UFC Fight Pass. But since they departed that service a few years back, there has been no option for international viewers.

Shooto Japan is one of the most important promotions in the country. It is producing stars and sending many to the international stage – currently, flyweight Tatsuro Taira has eyes on him in the UFC. But due to the promotion’s lack of access on an international stage, many of these names are hard to discover for many viewers unless they break out of the promotion.

Other Notes From The Week

  • This week was quite slow for the Japanese scene, with none of the big players putting on a card. But that’s not to say nothing happened…
    • Fighting NEXUS held their 28th show on Sunday in Tokyo.
    • Bantamweight prospect Takuma Sudo took his first pro loss in the main event, losing a title bout against defending champion Yasuhiro Kawamura. Sudo had six wins going into the fight, including a victory over Shooto Watanabe at a RIZIN card from April!
    • In other prospect news, Takeji Yokoyama earned his third win in the co-main event, submitting Fabio Harada with a rear naked choke. Yokoyama now has a pro record of three wins.
    • Also: Kento Tsuruya, the brother of Rei Tsuruya, won his pro debut against Noboru Takeshita.
    • GONG wrote a report on the event.
  • Shooto Japan recently announced the full card for their September 19th Korakuen Hall show.
    • Upgraded from interim champ to regular titleholder, Junji Ito will face Jo Arai in the main event.
      • Arai is a really interesting name. A few years ago, he had a negative record of four wins, nine losses, and two draws. He has turned things around in recent years and will enter this weekend’s title bout on a six-fight winning streak.
    • Other quick takeaways: Coming off a quick win on a “Road To UFC” event recently, 19-year-old Takeru Uchida will return to Shooto Japan to face Yuto Sekiguchi. Undefeated Chihiro Sawada and veteran Hisae Watanabe are also expected to appear (but not against each other, to be clear).
    • More info via GONG. 
  • A series of fights have been announced for Pancrase’s September 11th show.
    • After a three-fight run in RIZIN, Akira will return to Pancrase to face Koshi Matsumoto in an interim lightweight title fight.
    • Strawweight Karen will compete in a non-title bout, facing Momoka Hoshuyama.
    • Sayako will also return on the card, appearing for the first time since 2019!
  • Thailand’s Rajadamnern Stadium is promoting a Muay Thai fight between Kota Miura and legend Buakaw for August 19th. That’s… quite the odd pairing.
  • When DEEP Impact announced their flyweight grand prix recently, there was one “X” left in the bracket. We have now learned that RIZIN alum Yuto Uda will take that final spot, facing Chikara Shimabukuro at the promotion’s September 11th show.
  • Wasn’t able to squeeze this into last week’s issue in time, but it’s still worth mentioning. CJ of Sogo-Kaku attended RIZIN 37 and has some quick thoughts on the event. His note about the crowd filing out of the event earlier was particularly interesting to me. Here’s his full report.
  • And if you are craving some more takes on RIZIN 37, the We Are RIZIN podcast had a discussion a few days ago. Give it a watch here.
  • The International Report is here once again:
    • A rough week for JMMA on the international stage.
    • Takashi Sato took his third consecutive UFC loss on Saturday, suffering a brutal head kick knockout against “The Ultimate Fighter” winner Bryan Battle.
    • Masuto Kawana and Michinori Tanaka lost their respective bouts at LFA 138 on Friday night.
    • This week: three-fight RIZIN alum Valentin Moldavsky is back, facing Steve Mowry in the co-main event of Bellator 284 on Friday night.
    • One more thing to note: undefeated flyweight Tatsuro Taira is expected to return in October.
  • Ending this week’s notes with a quick thank you. “JMMA Monday” has slowly turned into one of my favorite things to work on every week, and I’m truly glad that people enjoy reading it. More fun/intriguing/interesting work is around the corner.

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