From 1997 onwards, PRIDE Fighting Championships and the Ultimate Fighting Championship battled to attract the eyes of fight fans from around the world. The UFC, a western product, ran to an international audience and managed to successfully promote itself to the world’s premier MMA organisation. PRIDE on the other hand, dabbled in more creative ways to generate an audience.
Up until its acquisition by Zuffa in 2007, the Japanese-ran promotion always attracted millions of viewers to their ‘Grand Prix’ tournaments, with famous winners such as Dan Henderson, Fedor Emilianenko and Wanderlei Silva taking the crown in chaotic nights of back-to-back action.
Besides the incredible roster of fighters, the UFC’s parent company bought out PRIDE for a reason. The tournament events made a killing on an eager market of fans and now the UFC returns to the MMA tournament formula for their latest addition to their shows. The Road To UFC is a new ‘win and advance’ tournament made to give Asia’s top MMA prospects the chance to win a UFC contract.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the UFC soft-launched ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show under the ‘Road To UFC’ name in Japan, with contestants fighting out of gyms in towns rather than sharing a house, with Josh Barnett and Roy Nelson as the two coaches.
The event takes place during the UFC Fight Week, when the promotion holds its first pay-per-view event in Southeast Asia, with Jiri Prochazka fighting Glover Teixeira for the light heavyweight belt in Singapore on June 11th. The 9th and 10th of June is when the tournament will take place and it will be free entry on a first-come first-served basis. There’ll be two days of events, with five bouts a day in four separate divisions between eight fighters. The semifinals and finals are set to be entered into the schedule later in the year.
The event will be the first UFC series to be produced in 4K high definition and will be available to watch via the UFC Fight Pass in the UK, with BT Sport yet to confirm if they’ll be showing it. The fighters have also been announced this week, with seven countries being represented.
Each episode will feature a bout from the featherweight, lightweight, flyweight and bantamweight divisions before a fight from outside the tournament headlines the event.
Notable fighters in the tournament include China’s Wuliji ‘The Beastmaster’ Buren, who was released by the UFC in 2020 after three losses in a row, including a TKO from Marlon Vera. He fights for another contract after getting four wins with the Wu Lin Feng promotion.
Also in the Bantamweight division is Rinya Nakamura, son of Shooto pioneer Kozo Nakamura, which helped birth the invention of PRIDE. He is a multi-medal winner at different weight classes in Japan and was set to wrestle at Tokyo 2020 but decided to retire in favour of mixed martial arts after the Olympics were delayed by the Covid outbreak. His freestyle wrestling record saw him compete 45 times, winning 36 bouts and his MMA record is so far three wins and zero losses.
Fellow countryman Koyomi Matsushima will be competing in the featherweight division, a former ONE Championship competitor who trains under “The Shogun Bear of Chokes” Satoru Kitaoka, a legend of the sport in Japan who competed for belts in nearly every organisation he fought in.
For neutrals, watching a long list of prelims can sometimes lack a bit of excitement, but like the ‘Contender Series’ show, these events seem to add a bit of spice to the occasion as the fighters need to impress and win to get the contract. No doubt it will be a popular addition to the fight week over in Singapore.