For the biggest part of his UFC and WEC career, bantamweight fighter Takeya Mizugaki battled to find steady ground after gaining a reputation for being one of the toughest fighters in the division.
Toughness and a willingness to go to war with opponents makes for fun fights, but it doesn't always equal wins. Mizugaki found that out the hard way as he bounced back and forth between wins and losses for nine straight fights between the two promotions.
Recently, however, Mizugaki has started to put together a solid winning streak that now stands at three in a row after defeating highly touted prospect Erik Perez at UFC Fight Night 27 last week.
Heading into the fight, Perez was being looked at as the next potential top-10 fighter for the division, but he had to get through Mizugaki to get there. Obviously, it didn't work out too well for him.
Mizugaki was the crisper striker throughout the fight and continuously beat Perez to the punch over the course of the full 15 minutes. Win or no win, the Japanese bantamweight is still his own harshest critic, and he knows he wasn't flawless in his execution regardless of the result.
"I was able to take him down at the crucial points of the fight, so that was good, but in overall, I feel I still have two problems," Mizugaki said about her performance. "My method of offense, and also, I took too much time defending on takedown attempts. So, out of perfect 100 I would have to rate my performance to, about 70."
When the final judges' scorecards came back, Mizugaki was given the nod via split decision, although no one could understand how he didn't win the fight across the board. Following the event at the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White said as much, but was happy that at least the right fighter got the win.
There is no doubt when the split decision score was read, Mizugaki felt his stomach drop to his knees because this isn't first time he's faced a dubious scoring decision. While his current win streak stands at three in a row, it could easily be five if not for a unanimous-decision loss to Chris Cariaso that virtually everyone scored for Mizugaki.
The fight was so lopsided, White even paid him his bonus money despite the scorecards saying he lost.
"I was very surprised. I thought all three judges would give me that fight," Mizugaki said. "I guess I am bit sensitive when it comes to decision since that Cariaso fight though. Dana tweets a lot about decisions and I always thought he is right on most cases. Although he has no power to overturn the decision I feel he puts fighters on the bright side. And, in that Cariaso fight, UFC did pay me a win bonus so I felt saved."
In many ways, the win over Perez was Mizugaki turning the corner on his career. For most of his time in the bantamweight division in the UFC or WEC, he's been regarded as a gatekeeper to the top 10. His only losses have been to the top guys in the sport, but beating a fighter like Perez, who was being looked at as a serious prospect, is a huge moment for the veteran fighter.
Was this a watershed moment for Mizugaki because he's been training differently or with a new camp? No, according to Mizugaki it's a focus he's gained as he gets ready to say goodbye to his 20s and hello to his 30s and knows that he can't fight forever.
"This is a difficult question. I didn't really make any big changes," Mizugaki said. "One thing is, I am going to turn 30 this year, so I began thinking how much time I have left as a professional fighter, so, that actually puts me into a better prospective (sic), perhaps, shifted me to a right direction, sort of speak."
Three wins in a row plus the last coming over Perez have put Mizugaki in an advantageous position in the bantamweight division. He's looking at the rankings, and while he's not naming anyone in particular, everyone in the top 10 has a target on their backs.
"I don't have any specific fighter in mind but I want to do a fight that would lead me to the title fight," Mizugaki said. "I just defeated Perez who was on a three-fight win streak in the UFC; therefore, yes, I think I deserve a top-10 opponent in my next fight."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.