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UFC targeting Japanese stars Ishii, Yamamoto, and Uno

LAS VEGAS – Three of Japan’s most recognizable MMA stars were in attendance during UFC 94 with Judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii and DREAM stars Norifum “Kid” Yamamoto, and Caol Uno among the 14,000-plus fans in attendance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena last night.

Ishii, Yamamoto, and Uno were all shown on camera during the non-televised portion of the card and were identified by UFC play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg, who indicated that the three were on hand to cheer their countryman Akihiro Gono. Gono lost a unanimous decision to former UFC welterweight title challenger Jon Fitch in the final fight contested before the PPV telecast.

In addition to supporting Gono, it appears the three might have been present for the event for additional reasons. According to a report by’s Todd Martin, UFC President Dana White stated during a post-fight press conference that the promotion has an interest in signing all three.

The revelation that the UFC has interest in Ishii is nothing new. Ishii, who won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing while representing Japan, was flown to Las Vegas by the UFC in December for UFC 92. While in town, he spent time at several local fight gyms, most notably Randy Couture’s Xtreme Couture. After the event, the promotion issued a press release announcing it had begun negotiations with the rookie heavyweight.

However, the news that White is interested in both Yamamoto and Uno is a new development. Yamamoto has not competed in over a year due to injury but is considered one of Japan’s biggest MMA stars who has also gained mainstream notoriety. A former standout amateur wrestler, Yamamoto has competed as both a bantamweight and a featherweight.

White’s public flirtation with Ishii stirred up a negative reaction with many Japanese fight fans and if the UFC is able to formally sign both, it could launch a full-scale promotional war. However, it still remains to be seen whether either will sign with the UFC, as Ishii still has not formally signed a contract and White also reportedly acknowledged that Yamamoto still has two fights on his current contract.

If signed by Zuffa, Yamamoto would not only give the promotion a drawing card in Japan but could be also promoted in high-profile fights against current WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres and or former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber.

Uno previously competed in the UFC from 2001-2003, compiling a record of 3-3-1 with notable victories over Yves Edwards and Din Thomas and notable losses to Jens Pulver and B.J. Penn. Now 25-11-4 in a pro MMA career that began in 1996, Uno is still considered one of Japan’s top lightweight competitors.

  • Tyler says:

    If they do sign all of these guys I could see a Zuffa held event in Japan.
    I also wonder if Uno would be competing at 155 in the UFC or WEC, also Yamamoto would most certainly be at 145 to set up a mega fight with Uriah Faber.
    Ishii I would think might want a fight or two at some smaller events before jumping into the UFC unless Zuffa planned on giving him the Roger Huerta treatment and gave him a few easier opponents to start with which might be the way they’d go.

  • shiki31 says:

    zuffa should also think about signing signing american fighters who fight in japan…they really need to re-sign jason miller.

  • rene levesque says:

    I dont get the Ishii thing.
    He is a big name in his country. Fine.
    But who knows or cares about a sub 6ft chunky HW in the US?
    (and is the only reason we know him in MMA because he called out Fedor?))

    It would have made more sense for him to stay home, make tons of money for 2-3 fights (he was offered 4-5 million bucks for a fight) while he is still marketable and at the same time getting the feel of getting punched and kneed in the face (by some handpicked opponent who happens to be a ground specialist, not a striker). You can practice all you want with training gloves but the first muay thai kick with his head that connects will be memorable.

    I get the UFC wanting local stars like they do in other events but that’s one event thing, maybe a yearly event. These guys are gonna want a lot of money for the risk of ‘crossing over’ and because of the famous UFC contracts and paydays (hey Jardine, your name of often used in Japan when talking about contracts/salaries). And even then, Japan is a tough nut to crack if you dont know the mentality. I dont want to say racism but let’s say japanese pride dictates a lot of business decisions with foreigners. (My roommate in Tokyo used to work for Apple in Japan where it doesnt have the success it does in the states).And we know the UFC has all the tact of prison rapist.

    Anyways, Ishii is the flavor of the month but with his chunky ass frame and short stature and reach, I dont see him doing much in the HWs.
    Teddy Riner, the french kid who won the judo worlds and europeans the same year at 18 is the one to watch.
    The kid is now 19, is about 6ft9 and weight 280-290pds.
    He might not be more skilled than Ishii (although his double win in 2007 is simlpy amazing) but imagine if he grows more.

    A nimble and quick 7tf, 300pounder?
    THAT might make me stand up and notice.

  • TK says:

    I for one would love to see a “Kid” vs Faber fight… Ishii is intriguing but would serve better actually having an mma fight before joining the UFC…. Uno is solid and I think would fit in better in the WEC I just dont see him being relevang in the UFC…. and as far as the comment on Mayhem… didnt he retire?


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