|Photo Courtesy of LadyGo!|
Ariel Helwani announced today that the UFC is looking to book a match between Pancrase Queen Rin Nakai (16-0-1) and former Strikeforce Champion Miesha Tate (14-5). Miesha Tate is well known to most casual MMA fans in the States but Rin Nakai's name probably doesn't ring a bell. Interestingly, if you go to Japan, most casual MMA fans will have heard of Rin Nakai but will not know Miesha Tate. From what I have heard, read and observed the UFC has a hard time sinking into the Japanese market. UFC appears on WOWOW in Japan, a premium channel and often via delay. The main audience watching that are die-hard fans and fighters. Now I may be wrong, but from what I have witnessed, Japanese fans really like watching Japanese fighters. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but as a general rule they like watching their own countrymen. PRIDE had Sakuraba, Gomi, and Yoshida. K-1 had Kid and Genki Sudo.
Here is a story that illustrates my point; when I was in Japan, I went to UFC 144. I was in the middle of a Japanese crowd. The people were there to see Gomi, Kid and Rampage. When Anthony Pettis came out to fight Joe Lauzon, I literally heard a group of people talking to each other say, "They aren't Japanese, let's go get some food" They paid more attention when Tamura Issei fought Tiequan Zhang. I will also never forget the bitterness in the air when Kid lost. The point being, for the UFC to be successful in Japan they are going to need Japanese fighters that do well. Rin Nakai is a fighter who does well.
Since there hasn't been any word that Rin Nakai has officially signed to the UFC, I will assume that they are still negotiating. This is where some of my questions arise. It is well known that Pancrase has a tight-grip on Rin Nakai. Sakai, the CEO of Pancrase, has invested a lot of money in Nakai and promoted her to a level that she is now one of Pancrase's bigger draws. Pancrase has done a lot for Nakai during her time there, including flying her to the main-island to train. So I'm wondering what kind of deal the UFC is making with him. Sakai is a successful businessman. He has turned Pancrase around and he cares about one thing; Money. Could he be using the Pancrase-WSOF deal, especially with an upcoming WSOF show in Japan to drive Nakai's price up? (I'm referring to the UFC having to buy her out of her Pancrase Contract)
If the UFC succeeds in signing Rin Nakai, that will be a step towards getting the UFC more popular in Japan. Matching her up with Miesha Tate is both a good move and a terrible move in my opinion. On the positive side: Miesha Tate is popular in the U.S. By pairing Rin with a popular fighter in the States it increases her name value and exposure. It does the same for Tate in Japan. On the negative: this is a huge step up in competition for Rin. She is coming off of victories over Tara Larosa and Sarah D'Aleio. Miesha is ranked #3 in the UFC and has taken Ronda farther than any other opponent. One of my pet-peeves is when fighters are rushed along too quickly. I would like to see Rin against a lower ranked opponent. This would give Rin both the opportunity and time to properly acclimate to fighting in the UFC and the caliber of opponents.