(Photo courtesy of Daniel Herbertson Photography.)
Many American fans may only know Yoshiyuki Yoshida as the guy who barely broke a sweat choking out the man now legally known as War Machine back at UFC 84, but on Wednesday the Japanese welterweight enters into his second UFC fight against Josh Koscheck at “Fight for the Troops” on Spike TV. Not only is it a significant step up in level of competition, it’s also bound to be hostile territory for Yoshida, considering he’s facing an American (okay, it’s Koscheck, but still) in front of an audience of American military personnel.
In this exclusive Cage Potato interview, Yoshida (with the help of a translator) talks about what he’s expecting from Koscheck on Wednesday night, and where he sees himself in the UFC’s welterweight division.
CagePotato.com: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Against a guy like Koscheck, who’s known for having great wrestling skills and good conditioning, how have you been preparing yourself for this fight?
I began training for this fight about two months ago. I’ve been doing a lot of sparring and running in the mornings, and at night I usually work on my boxing, hitting mitts, and trying to improve my technical skills and my strength. I’m in great shape for this fight, probably the best shape I’ve ever been in, and I’ll be ready for him.
What’s your strategy for dealing with Koscheck’s wrestling ability?
I understand he is a very good wrestler. There is no question about that. I’m not going to try and beat him that way, by outwrestling him. But one of my strengths is my judo, so I plan on using his aggressiveness against him by implementing my judo skills when he looks for a clinch or a takedown.
Since the fight is a benefit for American soldiers, it’s probably safe to say that you will not be the crowd favorite in this one. Does that enter into your mind at all, and what are your feelings on that?
I knew when I signed with the UFC that all my fights would be “away” fights. That is the reality of the situation. The UFC is the best organization in the world and has the best fighters, so if you are a Japanese fighter and you want to fight the best you have to be prepared for that, and I am. I know the crowd will be heavily on his side, and that is fine. Because when we get in the Octagon there will only be the two of us, and no one else can help him then.
You mention that the UFC is the world’s preeminent MMA organization right now. It seems that since the dissolution of Pride, Japanese MMA organizations have struggled to become major players. As a Japanese fighter, are you concerned about the lack of a Japanese rival to the UFC?
The UFC is the best organization in the world right now, that is true, but Japan has Sengoku and Dream, and while they are not as big as the UFC they both have some very good fighters.
So I’m not concerned about MMA in Japan. I think it will continue to be a situation where Japan has some organizations, but the top fighters in the world will continue to go to the UFC. I think it is like Major League Baseball in that way, where we have some very good players in Japan, but the best always end up going to America.
What do you see as the most significant differences between MMA in the UFC in America and in Japan?
There are differences, particularly with the different rules. You’re allowed to hit with elbows in the UFC, and in Japan you are not. But aside from that, it’s all basically the same. It’s all fighting, which is virtually the same anywhere. That’s the beauty of it.
Where would you rank Koscheck in the UFC’s welterweight division, and where do you think it puts you if you beat him?
I believe Koscheck does belong in the top five in the UFC’s welterweight division. If I beat him it puts me there, and I think it also puts me in the top ten in the world. That’s where I think I belong, where I should be right now, and I’m excited for the chance to show that to the world.
Is that what’s at stake for you in this fight, breaking into the top ten as a welterweight?
Yes, I think so. My last fight against Jon Koppenhaver, I believe it was shown on TV as part of the pay-per-view in America, and I hope that some American fans saw what I can do. My hope is that even more will see this fight.
I would like UFC fans to start recognizing me, to start recognizing my face and who I am, since I know I am probably unknown to most of them, but also recognizing my skills and what I can do. I want them to see that I am one of the top welterweights in the world. It is my hope that they will see this and that I will prove this to them against Josh Koscheck.