Oh Judo-know? Middleweight sensation Yoshihiro Akiyama will be making his Octagon debut against MMA veteran Alan Belcher this Saturday at UFC 100. The Judo practitioner will look to avoid being another Japanese import to lay an egg in his first UFC appearance.
“The Asian fighters aren’t doing too well in the UFC, so as someone that represents the Asian fighters, I want to do my best,” Akiyama said of his mindset. “To me, the transition from the ring to the cage isn’t too big, but I try not to think of it as much as possible, because that will get to my head.”
Akiyama’s arrival to MMA biggest organization is eerily similar to his previous overseas counterparts. Although his signing slid underneath the radar of most UFC fans, the hardcore MMA followers know exactly what this dude is about.
Although Akiyama holds an impressive 12-1 record, with his only blemish coming in his second ever pro scrap against Jerome LeBanner over three years ago, Belcher gladly accepted the challenge of trying to rain on Akiyama’s parade.
“That’s what fighting is all about, to test yourself,” Belcher stated of his upcoming bout. “It should be a challenging fight. I think Akiyama is a really well-rounded guy. He’s a great judo player. His stand-up looks good. His ground is strong. He’s got a good record. I think it’s going to be a good match.”
The task might be difficult, if not impossible, however the reward will prove to be worth the punishment. With a win, Belcher will have leapfrogged many of his fellow middleweights for a shot at champion Anderson Silva’s crown.
“Obviously, I understand that it makes more sense for me to fight somebody like Akiyama,” Belcher said. “It kind of puts me up the ladder a little bit more. Either way, it doesn’t matter just as long as I get back in there.”
And don’t think for a second that Akiyama doesn’t know that, regardless of how superior his overall MMA skills are, a hungrier, sharper and more aggressive opponent will do you in every time.
Just ask former Pride FC fighter Denis Kang as he was embarrassed by Belcher in his Octagon debut at UFC 93. Like Akiyama, Kang was expected to make a splash in the UFC’s weakest weight class, however he turned out to be another defective import after Belcher got his mitts on him.
“[Belcher’s] young, his striking is good, and he’s got more experience in the UFC than I do, so I think he’s an excellent fighter,” Akiyama alertly noted of the dangers his UFC 100 opponent faces.
At 14-5, Belcher is certainly no push-over, however he holds a meager 5-3 mark inside the UFC’s fences. It could be argued that the organization served him up as the guinea pig for the future middleweight title contender’s opener.
UFC president Dana White aggressively pursued Akiyama, and he’s banking on Akiyama becoming a legit threat to the 185-pound crown. That’s why the promotion wanted to use UFC 100 to showcase him, so the pressure is on for Akiyama to prove his worth, and he knows it.
“Right now I’m nervous, but sooner or later it will turn into excitement,” stated the UFC rookie.