Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4) is an overseas sensation and a decorated Judoka. He debuted at 185-pounds in the K-1 promotion's "Hero's" MMA series and quickly established that his combat proficiency went far beyond the art of Judo. Winning nine of his first ten matches, Akiyama unveiled a wide array of fight-finishing technique ranging from armbars, Ezekiel chokes, spinning back-kicks, a slam that segued into fierce ground-and-pound and good ol' fashioned face punching.
He has been steeped in controversy on more than one occasion. Twice in Judo competition and once versus Kazushi Sakuraba in MMA, Akiyama was accused of applying a slippery substance to either his kimono or his skin. Reminiscent of Palhares vs. Marquardt, Akiyama squirted out of a few takedown attempts from Sakuraba, who then openly protested to an official in the middle of the fight, and Akiyama pounced with a flurry of ground strikes to elicit a stoppage. The TKO was later changed to a No Contest. By no fault of his own, Akiyama was also nearly decapitated by a vicious kick courtesy of Kazuo Misaki. He successfully appealed the TKO loss due to the kick being illegal, resulting in a second No Contest ruling in a three-fight span.
After chalking up two more submission wins in Dream, Akiyama ventured stateside and made his Octagon debut against Alan Belcher, winning a debatable split decision that many penciled in for Belcher. Three consecutive defeats would follow -- Chris Leben by triangle, Michael Bisping by decision and Vitor Belfort by KO -- inspiring his descent to 170-pounds.
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Jake Shields (26-6) is a Cesar Gracie product with deeply layered submission grappling game. Now a veteran of over twelve years, Shields came up in Japan's Shooto promotion and put himself on the map by winning their middleweight strap with a stellar sequence that included upsetting the adored Hayato Sakurai.
His next step toward global recognition was winning the Rumble of the Rock 175-pound tournament by defeating UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit and top middleweight contender Yushin Okami on the same night. Many eyeballs were on that tournament due to big-name participants like Anderson Silva and Frank Trigg, and Shields gained a lot of respect for emerging victorious.
The fun was just beginning though: including his tournament wins, Shields would go on to piece together thirteen straight and float back and forth from welterweight to middleweight while accruing championship belts in EliteXC and Strikeforce. His attainment of the latter achievement was a dramatic upset of recent UFC crossover and dual-class Pride champ Dan Henderson, who battered Shields with the infamous H-bomb in the first but was helplessly out-wrestled in the following rounds.
At this point, Shields made a less than resplendent Octagon debut against Martin Kampmann and sputtered late in the fight, eking out an unimpressive split-decision. He was forwarded to a title shot against Georges St. Pierre at UFC 129 and lost a unanimous decision. On the heels of the heartbreaking passing of his father and longtime manager, Shields was knocked out for the first time since his third pro-fight in 2001 in a match with Jake Ellenberger.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Even though he hasn't been successful on the big stage, Akiyama was a hyped prospect for good reason.
He's an entirely complete fighter with excellent hands and kickboxing, a sneaky array of newaza in the clinch and smooth submissions on the mat. His cardio, chin and defense are solid and he's got a big heart as well.
He also tangled with some of the UFC's toughest and best strikers in Belcher, Leben, Bisping and Belfort. Stumbling against that level of opposition hardly reflects failure or disappointment, and Akiyama could turn out to be a brute at this new weight.
Being a high level Judoka, Akiyama always maintains strong balance so that he's prepared to fend off unforeseen takedown attempts. This will be a crucial attribute against Shields, who will surely be looking to swoop low and snare up a leg when Akiyama fires strikes.
Getting caught in Leben's triangle did elicit concerns about his overall grappling savvy, and Shields is an elite tactician with a distinctive brand of American Jiu Jitsu that few can withstand. I can't help but envision the contest as a grappler vs. striker affair that will revolve around Akiyama's takedown defense.
Shields was a two-time All American wrestler at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California and was later offered a wrestling scholarship at San Francisco University. While more prestigious wrestling credentials abound at MMA's top level, Shields is unique in that he simultaneously discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Cesar Gracie.
Only a select few MMA fighters back in the NHB era were laboring to progress wrestling in concert with BJJ; the two were more commonly opposed in competition. This unusual union and Shields decision to dive into MMA for a trial by fire would pay dividends in the future.
Shields has a wicked guillotine and is basically a threat to wrench a limb or halt carotid blood flow when he's in contact range.
Takedown-wise, Shields is an outright hustler with relentless determination. He excels at timing his shots when his opponent is committing to strikes and he's a master of changing angles constantly when he grabs ahold of a single. K.J. Gould's Judo Chop on Shields' grappling and takedowns is a must-read. He breaks down Jake's tendencies to the granular level and covers his pivotal fights from the past.
Judo Chop: Jake Shields American Jiu Jitsu
I'm partial to Shields in this match up but find the slanted odds in his favor a surprise. On paper, Akiyama's beastly Judo and polished striking could be a nightmare for Shields, who has improved his own stand up but should be over-matched on the feet. Throw in the endurance factor -- which is a nod for Akiyama and a knock on Shields -- plus a motivated Akiyama looking to regain face in Japan, and I see this as a lot closer than the lines reflect.
On the flip-side, Shields is likely burning for a win after being finished for the first time in over a decade and will be well accustomed to fighting in Japan. His chin might have to carry him through some rough spots but I expect him to persist with takedowns and score a sub or a strong decision.
My Prediction: Jake Shields by submission.
Shields vs. Kampmann gif via IronForgesIron.com
All others via MMA-Core.com