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 CBSSports.com’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.