(Photo courtesy of fightsport.fr)
The UFC’s most epic event of the year isn’t really the time or place to trot out unfamiliar faces from regional leagues. And so we have another lonely edition of The New Guys, with only one fighter on the UFC 100 lineup who’s never competed in the UFC before. The good news is, he’s one of Japan’s biggest MMA superstars, and could make a serious dent in the UFC’s rising middleweight division. So without further ado…
YOSHIHIRO AKIYAMA (MW)
?Experience: 12-1 record with 2 no-contests (10 wins by first-round stoppage), with multiple appearances in K-1 HERO’s, K-1 Dynamite!!, and DREAM. Holds notable victories over Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, and Kestutis Smirnovas. His only official loss came in his second MMA match against heavyweight kickboxer Jerome LeBanner, who significantly outweighed him. Akiyama most recently defeated Masanori Tonooka via armbar at DREAM.6 last September.
Will be fighting: Alan Belcher (14-5, 5-3 UFC)
Lowdown: He’s the man that Japanese MMA fans love to hate. Thanks to his Korean ethnicity and string of athletic controversies, Akiyama has played the role of heel for most of his career in Japan, and has parlayed his villain role into a great deal of fame. Prior to entering MMA, Akiyama was a champion judoka, taking gold medals for Japan in the 2001 Asian Championships and 2002 Asian Games. At the 2003 World Judo Championships, he was accused of greasing his gi, but cleared of the charges. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time he was accused of greasing. An ass-whupping of Kazushi Sakuraba at K-1 Dynamite!! 2006 — see the 4:22-4:56 mark of this video — was changed to a no-contest after Sakuraba complained that he couldn’t hold onto Akiyama during the fight, and it was discovered that Akiyama used body lotion before the match.
His official YouTube channel shows us that he’s starred in a crapload of commercials in Asia, and he can also fill arenas with his crooning. His fans refer to him as "Sexyama." According to this UFC.com profile, he’s been training with Yushin Okami, he compares his fame in Japan to Chuck Liddell‘s in the U.S., and sees his signing with the UFC as like entering the Major Leagues in baseball. But will he strike out in his Octagon debut, like Denis Kang before him? (Alan Belcher was also responsible for that bit of hype-smashing, at UFC 93 in January.) Check out some of his fights below and let us know what you think…
(Akiyama vs. Manhoef)
(Akiyama vs. Kang)
(Akiyama vs. Katsuhiko Nagata)