Yoshihiro 'Sexyama' Akiyama is 1-4 in his UFC run, and is surely in danger of being cut by the organisation if he loses again. This would be a terrible shame, as each one of Sexyama's UFC fights have been incredibly entertaining, and his inclusion on the main card of an event generally means that there will be at least one fight packed with excitement.
The other unfortunate thing about Akiyama's UFC run is that fact that he has faced a murderer's row of opponents, with each opponent being better than his last. Thiago Alves may actually be a slight step down from Jake Shields, but the fact remains that while other fighters are relegated to undercards and have to build themselves up fighting less threatening opposition, Akiyama gets thrown to the lions every time out. Here's a look at the 5 opponents he has faced in his UFC run.
Alan Belcher: UFC 100
Akiyama won a close fight via split decision in an impressive UFC debut. Many observers argued with the judges’ verdict, but this was an occasion where the majority of judges got the decision absolutely right. Akiyama controlled much of the fight with takedowns and crisp punches leading to a couple of knockdowns. A well made fight, as Akiyama was considered to be on the cusp of the top-10 at the time at middleweight.
Chris Leben: UFC 116
Akiyama was sidelined for a year and was scheduled to take a serious step up in competition at one of the biggest events of the year by fighting one of the best of all time, Wanderlei Silva. Unfortunately Silva was injured with two weeks remaining until the event, and he was replaced by Chris Leben, who was riding a wave of new-found momentum, having just upset Aaron Simpson the day before he got the call. The fight was one of the most exciting of the year, with both fighters taking huge amounts of punishment, and defying the laws of biology, physics, or whatever by staying on their feet. Akiyama landed power shots directly on Leben's chin for 2 rounds to enter the third ahead on the judges’ cards, but as both fighters tired and Akiyama tried to ride out the win in full guard, Leben was able to lock in a triangle choke and get the submission victory with seconds left on the clock. It was a another well made fight, and could have gone either way.
Michael Bisping: UFC 120
Coming off his first UFC loss, Akiyama was matched with Michael Bisping in England. Bisping had become a top-10 middleweight contender and was the clear favourite fighting in his home country. Bisping dominated the fight as expected, easily keeping Akiyama on the end of his punches thanks to a significant reach advantage. It was a valiant effort, but Akiyama's limitations as a small middleweight were starting to become apparent. This was the first of Akiyamea's UFc fights that raised a few eyebrows. I can't remember anyone giving him a chance against Bisping, who was on the rise.
Vitor Belfort: UFC 133
Coming off a two-fight losing streak, and firmly out of the top-10 middleweight fighters in the world, Akiyama was heavily encouraged to drop to the welterweight division where it was assumed he could be much more competitive, as he would actually be the same size as his opponents. Instead, Akiyama stayed at middleweight and was matched up against Vitor Belfort, whose previous fight had been a title fight with Anderson Silva. Belfort dispatched Akiyama via KO in the first round in an incredibly one-sided fight. A poorly made fight. Again, no-one was giving Akiyama a chance and it marked another step up in competition.
Jake Shields: UFC 144
Sexyama finally entered the welterweight division, and was welcomed by top-10 contender, and pound-for-pound calibre fighter Jake Shields (who is such a big welterweight he has just moved back up to middleweight). Though Shields was coming off a pair of losses, they were against the (arguably) #2 p4p fighter in the world, and probably the next contender for the welterweight title, and Shields was not far removed from beating #2 ranked light-heavyweight Dan Henderson. Shields won a wide decision that did not speak to how close the fight was. Akiyama performed well, unleashing his judo skills and decent punches to the extent that many thought he won the fight. Another step up in competition for Akiyama, not just in terms of placement in a divisional sense, but now he was entering the realm of a fighter who had been regarded as one of the p4p top-10 until just a few months prior.
Despite Alves dropping out of the top-10 rankings in the division after going 2-4 in his last 6 fights, he should still be the favourite in this fight, and thanks to his aggressive striking and excellent takedown defence, accomplish a decision or KO victory.
I understand that Akiyama has faced big names because he is undoubtedly on a big-money contract, and the UFC feel that he should not be wasted on mediocre opposition. However, surely it would be in their best interest to allow him at least a chance of winning a fight to help build him back up in the division, so he can remain in the promotion. The UFC have made it clear that they have eyes on an event in Korea, where Akiyama is a huge star, and he would be useful for trips back to Japan.
No other fighter receives the same kind of treatment, and I am dreading Akiyama's inevitable release from the UFC, he will be sorely missed. And he's sexy