One of the most intriguing topics coming out of last night's UFC 120 main event showdown between Michael Bisping and Yoshihiro Akiyama is the discussion as to whether Akiyama is a true disappointment or the perfect antidote against the poison of dull, tiresome performances. Many fans would probably take a cursory glance at his record and his performances and believe that the 2002 Asian Games 81kg Judo gold medalist has been a major failure in his ambitious effort to become relevant in the UFC middleweight division. But a case could be made that valuing his performances without considering the entertainment factor is unwise, especially when we talk about what really matters -- Zuffa's bottom line.
From a technical standpoint, Akiyama has had his ups and downs over the course of his three-fight stint with the UFC. Conditioning has been an ongoing struggle for Akiyama, and the size of his frame in comparison to most of his competition is tough to ignore. If you recall, the split decision victory over Alan Belcher at UFC 100 still drew a lot of criticism from fans that Akiyama would best be suited at welterweight, despite earning the victory along with a Fight of the Night bonus.
It's tough not to give Akiyama credit where credit is due however. When he first signed with the UFC back in February of 2009, there was considerable concern that DREAM had protected him in his two most recent match-ups with Katsuyori Shibata and Masanori Toonoka. While the mixed martial arts scene in Japan frequently produces squash matches, there was a lot of talk that Kazuo Misaki's illegal head kick had loosened the bolts in Akiyama's head and caused DREAM to go on the defensive in securing a future for their investment. Once Akiyama landed in North America, there was some speculation that FEG had let him go due to those concerns being confirmed. Fortunately for the fans, Akiyama has managed to silence any doubts that his chin has wilted from past encounters.
Being able to slug it out with some of the best in the division is great for your pocketbook, but it's apparent that Akiyama will never reach a level in which we consider him an upper-echelon talent. While he does possess one punch knockout power and excellent Judo skills, the idea that the only strategy Akiyama could come up against Michael Bisping was to sit in the pocket and load up his right hand proves that his fight intelligence is lacking. Sure, it worked for Dan Henderson, but I highly doubt it'll work a second time.
Does that really matter though? In the end, Akiyama has earned three consecutive Fight of the Night bonuses, entertained millions of fans worldwide, and gained the respect of many fans who didn't give him a chance when he traversed the Pacific to fight in North America.
Is Yoshihiro Akiyama a disappointment? For fans expecting him to dominate the UFC and Judo toss Anderson Silva into unconsciousness, those visions of grandeur have blinded them to the reality that Akiyama was never a world beater. If we look at his performances in the UFC from a more realistic point of view, we can enjoy what he's accomplished in the UFC. He's become one of the true entertainment acts in the UFC middleweight division, and we should be lucky to watch his gutsy performances, even if he can't find the winning formula.