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Full Speed Ahead for Yoshihiro Akiyama

“I feel like over the past two fights I have been able to acclimate to the fighting style of that in the cage and to me, the win and the loss are both very important keys in affecting my fighting style, so they’ve both been very good for me.”
In the days leading up to his UFC 116 bout against Chris Leben in July, there was little question that Yoshihiro Akiyama wasn’t overjoyed with his present situation.

Expecting to face future Hall of Famer Wanderlei Silva in Las Vegas, Akiyama had a wrench thrown into the works when “The Axe Murderer” was forced out of the fight due to injury, and instead he got Leben, the type of granite-chinned foe that no one wants to get on short notice, simply because the odds are that he’s going to stick around for a while, hit you more than a few times and generally be a pest for three rounds.

And Akiyama knew it.

“I felt that whether it was striking or grappling, I had the advantage over Chris Leben, but there were certain things that were holding me back from fighting my best in that fight,” he said during a recent media teleconference. “I felt like I didn’t have enough time to prepare for my opponent and so during the fight I wasn’t able to come up with a strategy that was specifically for Chris Leben.”

Admitting that the change “affected 80 percent of the way I fought and I felt like I fought with the last 20 percent that I had in me,” Akiyama certainly had plenty to give in that 20 percent, as he tucked his chin in and went to war with Leben for the 14 minutes and 40 seconds the fight lasted. But with just 20 seconds left, an improbable triangle choke from Leben ended Akiyama’s night and pinned him with his first loss since 2005.

It was a tough defeat to take, even though it earned him his second consecutive Fight of the Night bonus (the first was in his UFC 100 win over Alan Belcher), but for the Osaka native, it was yet another learning experience as he adapts to life in the UFC.

“I feel like over the past two fights I have been able to acclimate to the fighting style of that in the cage and to me, the win and the loss are both very important keys in affecting my fighting style, so they’ve both been very good for me,” he said.

And truth be told, despite a 1-1 record in the UFC that consists of the loss to Leben and a razor-thin split decision over Belcher, to fight fans, all that really matters is that in two bouts Akiyama has delivered drama, intensity, and the type of warrior spirit we hope to see from all fighters. In other words, he has been adopted by UFC fans, and on Saturday night in London, there are fireworks expected once again when he takes on British star Michael Bisping in the main event of UFC 120. At least this time, for one of the rare moments in Bisping’s career, the fireworks will be confined to the Octagon.

“I really have no interest in exchanging verbal assaults and I have nothing bad to say about my opponent, Michael Bisping,” said Akiyama. That’s a good thing, because stylistically, this fight needs no added hype, but if you’re looking for some more intrigue, you can point to Akiyama’s short stay in Albuquerque working with Greg Jackson.

“I was able to learn the intricate skills of takedowns as well as better striking for MMA,” said Akiyama of his time in New Mexico. “Most of all, I was able to learn how to deliver a good three round fight in the cage.”

The 35-year old Akiyama really didn’t need any added instruction for that part of the deal, but if it can possibly get better than two straight Fight of the Night performances, fans won’t turn it down.

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