Every year in Japan, the MMA event schedule is held in a pattern. At the beginning in January, things don't look very active, and promotions try to build their way up to bigger events during the later part of year.
Here, I will break down this year's JMMA schedule.
First, Dream will stay with Glory at the Saitama Super Arena. Not many details have been released yet, but the kickboxing portion of the event will be separated. Other than that, not much is known.
For Shooto, they have started up VTJ again. I don't know how often they can hold these events in larger venues. They would like to have two or three events per year. If they hold two, April-May would work for the first VTJ and October-November can be used for the second VTJ if old patterns remain.
Shooto holds its annual rookie tournament every year. I recommend that foreigners watch the rookies at Shinjuku Face, where the Shooto Gig Tokyo events take place. Other regional events like Border, Shooto Gig Central and Shooto Gig North also have some of the tournament fights.
Shooto's Shinjuku Face events also include the Infinity tournament, which is designed for Class B shootors to step up to Class A, where fighters compete for three rounds instead of two.
The rookie tournament's early stages are also held in Osaka (Border or Shooto Gig West) or Nagoya (Shooto Gig Central), and the tournament final event at Shinjuku Face showcases the top Shooto rookies from the year.
Shooto rookies like Horiguchi and Tanaka fought at Shinjuku Face, won the tournament excitingly and then stepped up to bigger events at Korakuen Hall. Shooto's Korakuen Hall events still serve as most JMMA fighters' last step before signing with a major promotion.
Shooto can't offer enough money to make a living as a pro fighter only, so most fighters defend their belts a few times and then return them. Still, many young fighters nationally and internationally who love the sport will chase this tradition to become a major fighter.
Shooto's Vale Tudo Japan shows are caged events with unified rules. Last year, they brought in the Tachi Palace Fights champion to face Shooto talent as a test to see how close the Shootors were to being ready to fight for a major promotion.VTJ 2nd will hold on June 22nd, Tokyo dome city hall.
Pancrase normally holds its events at Differ Ariake. I recommend attending events if LW champ Isao Kobayashi and BW champ Shintaro Ishiwatari are fighting on the card.
This year's Pancrase schedule also includes a bigger event on September 29th that will commemorate the 20th anniversary of Pancrase. The event's venue, Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium, can seat 5000 people and we should see some great matchmaking for that event.
Pancrase is focused on bringing in foreign fighters in order to keep its events relevant, which is an interesting approach. They cooperate with AKA, Wand Fight Team and Cesar Gracie Fight Team. You can now see talented fighters from those teams in Pancrase.
Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium
DEEP constantly holds shows at Korakuen Hall with Dream dropout fighters. They will also hold a bigger event on April 26th when Satoru Kitaoka challenges for the LW title against Daisuke Nakamura, and Sengoku and Bellator veteran Dan Hornbuckle challenges Yuya Shirai for WW title. Also, Tatsumitsu Wada and Yusaku Nakamura fight in a flyweight title eliminator at this event.
Generally, the bigger MMA events in Japan always take place in December. Dream's NYE show, of course, and also local organizations' landmark events. However, if you plan a trip to Japan during the rest of the year, check out the Sherdog Fight Finder for event listings and pick a good time to visit.
Big thanks to Robert Sargent (from MMA Rising) for English editing.