It has been approximately five years and nine months.
At UFC 99, Caol Uno, a Japanese MMA mainstay and early UFC lightweight staple, makes his return to the UFC.
During Uno’s absence from the UFC, the organization’s lightweight division has undergone a remarkable renaissance after a temporary abolition. During the same period, Uno has fought the Who’s Who of the lightweight division.
Now, at age 34, Uno brings his world class experience and battle-tested skills to the most prestigious MMA organization in the world.
Not only will he be a tough veteran in a stacked division but given his popularity in Japan and amicable relationship with the UFC president, Dana White, he may be an important piece of the puzzle in the UFC’s ambitious plan to expand into the MMA stronghold of Japan.
A 13-year veteran of the sports, Uno has gone toe-to-toe with top lightweights, including Tatsuya Kawajiri, Shinya Aoki, Gesias Cavalcante, Mitsuhiro Ishida, and Joachim Hansen.
A well-rounded fighter who can give any top level lightweight a tough battle, he is known for his tenacity and wiliness on the ground. Since exiting UFC in 2003, Uno has gone 10-5-1, losing only to top 10 ranked opponents in all but one bout.
Joining the UFC’s stacked lightweight division, Uno will match up well with mid- and top-tier fighters in the division. With the exception of BJ Penn and Diego Sanchez, no other fighter in the division can match his grappling prowess.
As accomplished a fighter as he is, Uno likely will not steamroll through the division’s deep roster. Given his strengths and weaknesses, Uno stands as an intriguing, one-man experiment in the laboratory that is UFC’s lightweight division.
Uno has not been submitted since 2000 — even Shinya Aoki, a world class submission specialist, could not finish him despite coming very close more than once during their fight. Always agile and technically proficient on the ground, Uno excels at maneuvering himself out of dangerous positions.
He has only earned two of his victories via TKO and is not a powerful striker by any stretch. Nevertheless, his technical striking has improved over the years, and he has shown good linear and lateral movement on the feet and quick, crisp strikes. If the photo footage of his recent training session with a renowned boxing trainer, Freddie Roach, is any indication, expect Uno to step into the Octagon with newly refined hand speed and dexterity.
He is no slouch in the wrestling department and handily defeated a wrestling stalwart, Mitsuhiro Ishida during the quarterfinal round of the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix last year. However, Ishida was not as explosive as usual during the fight, and Uno has not faced an aggressive, physically imposing wrestler since fighting Tatsuya Kawajiri in 2004.
With the likes of Tyson Griffin, Sean Sherk, and Gray Maynard occupying the top echelon of the division, Uno must ready himself to have his strength, wrestling, and conditioning put on a grind stone.
While possessing good conditioning and the ability to fight at a steady pace for fifteen minutes, he has struggled against fighters who aggressively try to impose their will on him. Against Aoki, he easily let his opponent take rein of the fight and resorted to fending off submission attempts for much of the fight. In the K-1 Hero’s 2006 tournament final, Gesias Cavalcante’s powerful striking and aggression swayed the fight, even as Cavalcante’s stamina started to ebb late in the fight.
Uno’s tendency to cede control of fights to aggressive foes does not bode well against the likes of Tyson Griffin, Sean Sherk, Clay Guida, and Frankie Edgar: He may be proficient in fending off his opponents’ attacks but staying on the defensive will backfire on the judges’ scorecard.
As a well-rounded ground fighter with world class experience, Uno will be a dangerous and unique challenge for anyone in the division. The combination of his assets and liabilities makes each of his fight an interesting experiment. Any legitimate talent in the division can upset him but he will certainly give anyone a tough fight with his skills, heart, and experience — not to mention that he is a damn hard fighter to finish.
Besides being a welcome addition to the lightweight division, Uno may have another pivotal role in store for him outside the Octagon.
As a mainstay in Japanese MMA scene, Uno has seen his popularity expand beyond the circle of MMA enthusiasts.
With a flagship status in the Hero’s and DREAM promotions and occasional appearances in fashion magazines and other non-MMA publications, he possesses mainstream appeal — hence the name recognition that the UFC can leverage to establish its brand in the Japanese market.
Uno boasts another distinct asset that will aid UFC’s nascent expansion into Japanese market: His experience on the promotional side of the MMA industry.
Having served as the event adviser for Cage Force, the first and one of the few cage-staged MMA promotions in Japan, Uno is well-suited to help navigate the UFC’s penetration into the Land of the Rising Sun.
Uno’s involvement in event development and other facets of the fight business, in addition to his experience as a fighter in major Japanese and American promotions, give him unique authority in mediating the cultural and promotional bridge between the American brand (UFC) and the Japanese market.
Furthermore, Cage Force may become the key to UFC’s expansion in Japan.
Besides staging its events inside the Octagon, Cage Force has patterned its rules after UFC’s, with the adoption of elbow strikes and similar weight classes.
Having been the springboard for current UFC fighters, Yushin Okami and Yoshiyuki Yoshida, and the recent WEC bantamweight title challenger, Takeya Mizugaki, Cage Force has implicitly shaped itself into a grooming ground of future cage warriors. Other fighters who have stepped into Cage Force’s Octagon include former UFC fighters, Keita Nakamura and Luigi Fioravanti, and current UFC welterweight, Dan Hardy.
Beyond Cage Force, the relationship Uno has established with the personnel from Fighting and Entertainment Group (the parent company behind K-1 and DREAM) and Shooto will also benefit the UFC as it seeks to root itself in the Japanese MMA world.
At UFC 99, Caol Uno will face a very game Spencer Fisher. Though not an easy fight, it will be a perfect opportunity to showcase his veteran pedigree to the UFC audience and prove that he is here to stay.
While the event takes place in Germany, Uno’s welcome-back party could very well signal the beginning of UFC’s vigorous expansion into a country thousands of miles away.
Tags: Caol Uno, DREAM, Gesias Cavalcante, Mixed Martial Arts, Shinya Aoki, ufc 99