Remembering the first time the UFC was in Japan
At UFC 144 Edgar vs. Henderson, it will mark the first time 12 years that the UFC has held an event in Japan in since 2000.
Many familiar fighters were on that first card in Japan at UFC 29. A young Tito Oritz was defending his middleweight belt (now the light heavyweight division) for the first-time. Also on the card were Pat Miletich, Chuck Liddell, Evan Tanner, Matt Hughes, Matt Lindland, Dennis Hallman and Jeff Monson.
This was the last Ultimate Fighting Championship event held under the ownership of SEG. Zuffa would take over the organization at UFC 30 in Atlantic City, NJ.
Dojo TV recorded hundreds of hours of the early years of the UFC, getting behind the scenes footage of the fighter and at ringside.
In the videotape of UFC 29 Japan you can see how much the organization has grown in 12 years. There were around 30 people at the weight-in in Japan, compared to thousand that show up at the current weight-in events. The fighter were weighted on bathroom scales and referee Mario Yamasaki demonstrated that if a fight would lean forward or backward the fighter could change how much he weighted.
Tito Ortiz talked about his experience at UFC 29. It was his first-time fighting outside the country and he need to monitor his diet. “When I fought in Japan, food was a big factor. I made sure I ate the right food,” said Ortiz. “People don’t understand once you make weight. You have to eat the right carbs and the right proteins. The best of both worlds is sushi. I ate a lot of fresh fish and white rice and got my weight back up.”
Dojo TV also captured Ortiz after he lost his belt in a taxicab in Japan. I asked Tito if he recounted losing the belt in a taxicab, and he didn’t recall it happening (Check out the video).
Chuck Liddell was the opening fight on the main card and he took on fellow American Jeff Monson and won by a unanimous decision. Liddell recalled how much of a low budget event the previous owners SEG would operate. “Back then they would fly us in the day of the weight-in,” said Liddell. “So I would cut weight at the airport. I would get to the weight-in and we would use bathroom scales. So when Zuffa took over you got Commissions and certified scales. A lot more organized.”
The biggest surprise for Liddell and Ortiz in Japan was the fans reactions during the fights. “I think it’s the only place in the world you can hear a pen drop in between rounds,” recalled Ortiz. “They are so quiet because they have some much respect for MMA fighters.”
Liddell remembered being in the corner of Dan Henderson in Japan. “I was at a arena in Japan that had 18,000 fans and I had earphones on my ears. I was yelling instructions to Dan Henderson during the fight. Someone told me to take my earphones off and it was so quiet,” said Liddell. “I could have been 50 yards away and he could have heard me, because it was so quiet.”