Four Japanese legends of MMA -- three of them former big stars in their homeland, the other the most successful Japanese UFC fighter ever -- fought last night at UFC 144. All four men acquitted themselves well and each of them had highlight reel moments. Unfortunately, only one came away a victor.
Takanori Gomi, the "Fireball Kid," once the world's best lightweight fighter and the long-time Pride champion, pulled out a come-from-behind victory over Eiji Mitsuoka in the second round. Mitsuoka, a veteran of the Japanese circuit who's never managed to win the big one, once again came up short despite a brilliant first round that saw him outpunch and outgrapple Gomi and very nearly finish him with a triangle choke.
Gomi lost the first round about as badly as it's possible to lose a round in MMA and yet he came out in the second round like the Fireball Kid of old and scored a triumphant TKO victory. According to Zach Arnold, Gomi's comeback win is the top story in Japan coming out of UFC 144.
The other top stories are less uplifting for fans of Japanese fighters.
Going into Yoshihiro Akiyama's welterweight debut against feared grappler Jake Shields, it was universally believed that if Akiyama could use his Judo prowess to keep the fight on the feet, he would win. Akiyama certainly managed to stuff all but 2 of Shield's 14 take down attempts while landing 2 of his own, one of them by way of a dramatic Judo throw that slammed Shields to the mat.
Unbelievably though Akiyama was still the clear loser of the fight as Shields managed to utterly outstrike him on the feet. Shields never appeared to hurt Akiyama but he landed 119 strikes to Akiyama's 52 (per Fight Metric) and outscored him 91-33 in significant strikes.
The Japanese media is focusing on whether or not this will be Akiyama's last UFC performance as he's now 1-4 with the organization. Personally I felt the 36-year-old looked slow and sluggish against Shields but believe he merits one more shot in the UFC's welterweight division.
Yushin Okami is not one of the big stories in the Japanese media coming out of UFC 144. He's virtually unknown in his native land as he's been relentlessly focused on the United States throughout his career and has been in the UFC since 2006 building up a 10-4 record with the promotion.
And for two rounds of his bout with Tim Boetsch last night Okami looked every inch the UFC's best-ever Japanese fighter. He dominated Boetsch utterly both standing and on the ground, busting up "the Barbarian" with sharp jabs and taking him down at will.
Unfortunately for Okami, who hoped to make a strong impression on Japanese fans seeing him for the first time, he dropped his guard in the third round and ate a brutal series of uppercuts from Boetsch. Okami's UFC 144 performance will likely be remembered, if at all, for his ugly unconscious fall to his back at the end of the fight, flattened by a storm of dirty boxing.
Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto was once one of the biggest stars in all of Japanese MMA, if not all of Japanese sports and entertainment. Against Vaughan Lee, he showed flashes of the athletic brilliance that once had everyone agreeing he was the best little man in combat sports. At one point he hurt Lee with a big punch and chased the staggered Brit across the Octagon looking for the kill shot, but Lee survived the brush with disaster.
Then Lee did the unthinkable, the submission specialist beat up the mighty Kid Yamamoto on the feet. Lee stunned him standing before taking him down and choking out the man who once resisted a full fight's worth of submission attempts from the legendary Royler Gracie.
Despite the win by Takanori Gomi and wins by Riki Fukuda and Issei Tamura, the UFC's roster of Japanese fighters took two steps back last night. There was one exception and that is Hatsu Hioki, but I'll talk about his big win in my next post.
SBN coverage of UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson
More UFC 144 coverage here at Bloody Elbow:
- UFC 144 Results: Winners, Losers, And Other Thoughts - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Frankie Edgar Doesn't 'Need' To Drop To Featherweight - Brent Brookhouse
- UFC 144 Results: Rampage Jackson Goes Out Like A Lamb In Loss To Ryan Bader - Nate Wilcox
- UFC 144 Results: Ben Henderson And Anthony Pettis Ready For Rematch - Nate Wilcox
- UFC 144: Edgar Vs. Henderson Results And Post-Fight Analysis - Brent Brookhouse
- UFC 144 Results: Dana White Says Anthony Pettis Will 'Likely' Get Next UFC Lightweight Title Shot - Bloody Elbow
- UFC 144 Post-Fight Press Conference Video
- UFC Japan Video: Georges St. Pierre Gets Attacked By A Mob Of Kids With Samurai Foam Swords - Bloody Elbow
- Bad Boy Presents Bloody Elbow Radio - Episode 139: UFC 144 Results Review
- UFC 144 Results: Ryan Bader Dominates Rampage Jackson To Decision - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Mark Hunt Knocks Out Cheick Kongo In The First Round - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Jake Shields Wins Hard Fought Decision Over Yoshihiro Akiyama - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Tim Boetsch Upsets Yushin Okami In The Third Round - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Post-Fight Press Conference Video
- UFC 144 Results: Hatsu Hioki Defeats Bart Palaszewski By Unanimous Decision - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Anthony Pettis Knocks Out Joe Lauzon In The First Round - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Takanori Gomi Stops Eiji Mitsuoka In The Second - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Vaughan Lee Submits Kid Yamamoto With An Armbar - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Riki Fukuda Dominates Steve Cantwell To Decision - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Chris Cariaso Defeats Takeya Mizugaki By Unanimous Decision - Matthew Roth
- UFC 144 Results: Issei Tamura Knocks Out Tiequan Zhang - Matthew Roth