The UFC announced today that Yoshihiro Akiyama will indeed be making his welterweight debut this coming February in Japan, taking on the highly-regarded Jake Shields.
“Verbal agreements are in for a welterweight matchup in Tokyo, Japan between former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields and Asian superstar ‘Sexyama’ Yoshihiro Akiyama February 26th,” said UFC boss Dana White.
Akiyama, an accomplished Japanese judoka, made his UFC debut against Alan Belcher back at UFC 100 to great expectations. He won that fight via split decision, but would go on to lose his next three fights in the promotion. Following close battles to Chris Leben and Michael Bisping, Akiyama met Vitor Belfort and suffered one of the most dramatic losses of his career: a knockout within the first two minutes of the fight. Akiyama is now looking to reinvent himself with a move to welterweight, something his UFC bosses have been urging him to do for some time.
Former Strikeforce middleweight champ and UFC number one welterweight contender Jake Shields will welcome Akiyama to the Octagon, looking to bounce back from his own first round knockout defeat to rising contender Jake Ellenberger back in September. Shields entered the UFC on a fourteen-fight winning streak and narrowly defeated Martin Kampmann for a chance to challenge Georges St-Pierre for the title. Shields gave GSP a tougher fight than most of his recent opponents, but was beaten by decision all the same. Shields attempted to rebound against Ellenberger, staying in the fight despite the passing of his father and manager during his training camp.
UFC 144 is scheduled to take place on February 26 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan and will mark the UFC’s first trip back to the Land of the Rising Sun since UFC 29 in 2000.