Remembering the last time the UFC was in Japan
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At UFC 144 Edgar vs. Henderson, it will mark the first time 12 years that the UFC has held an event in Japan.
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 about 30 people at the weigh-in in Japan, compared with the thousands who now show up at the weigh-in events. The fighters were weighed on bathroom scales, and referee Mario Yamasaki demonstrated that if a fighter leaned forward or backward, he could change how much he weighed.
Tito Ortiz talked about his experience at UFC 29. It was his first time fighting outside the country, and he needed to monitor his diet. “When I fought in Japan, food was a big factor. I made sure I ate the right food,” Ortiz said. “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 whether he recounted losing the belt in a taxicab, and he didn’t recall it happening (check out the video).
Liddell was in the opening fight on the main card, against fellow American Jeff Monson, and won by unanimous decision. Liddell recalled how much of a low-budget event SEG would operate. “Back then, they would fly us in the day of the weigh-in,” Liddell said. “So I would cut weight at the airport. I would get to the weigh-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 fights. “I think it’s the only place in the world you can hear a pin drop in between rounds,” Ortiz recalled. “They are so quiet because they have so 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,” Liddell said. “I could have been 50 yards away and he could have heard me because it was so quiet.”