UFC 128 Fight Card: Is Yoshihiro Akiyama Fighting To Keep His Job?

Elton HobsonCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2011

Yoshihiro Akiyama is what would happen if you asked the women of Japan to design a professional fighter based on their sexual fantasies, minus any tentacle monster-related fetishes of course (this experiment has already been tried in Canada with great success).

The man is epic. Not the lame, frat-boy “my kegger is gonna be epic, dude!” sort of epic. Epic like a successful male model who also happens to be a badass professional fighter. Zoolander with a black belt kinda epic.

Maybe its his go for broke fighting style. Maybe it’s his “Ave Maria” entrance music, such a refreshing (and jarring) change from the usual diarrhea stream of nu-metal one endures at any MMA event. Maybe it’s the man’s impeccable taste in felt, dandelion-yellow trench coats.

Akiyama established himself as a superstar in his native Orient, the “Tiger Woods of Japan” according to Dana White (vicodin and fugly Denny’s waitress not included) before coming to America and carving a niche with fans in the UFC, where Japanese talent has historically struggled to catch on.

Now “Sexyama” needs to take a page out of Charlie Sheen’s book and start winning.

When he steps into the cage at UFC 128 on March 19th, he’ll be bringing a less than impressive 1-2 UFC record with him. This begs the question: should he lose (in what would be his 3rd consecutive loss), will Akiyama be facing the chopping block?

Dana White doesn’t think so. And that should be the end of the debate, but Mr. White isn’t exactly a paragon of integrity or consistency when it comes to these sort of promises.

He once promised reporters that he would never cut a guy as exciting as Jason McDonald—and then fired him the next day. Who dares venture to guess at the motivations of MMA’s evil mastermind?

Alright, I dare.

Results and cost motivate White, same as any big time CEO. If you’re cheap to keep around, you can afford to be wildly inconsistent (see Tuscherer, Chris).

If your contract has five zero’s on it, however, then you better be wary of putting one or two—let alone three—straight notches on the L side of your ledger.

Yet Akiyama might have a bone to pick with Joe Silva on that score.

For being a highly-touted, much hyped prospect the UFC was hoping to leverage as a gateway to the Asian market, Akiyama has faced an absolute murderers row of fighters, each one tougher than the last.

Akiyama made his debut against Alan Belcher, who aside from having MMA’s worst tattoo is also a vastly underrated striker. He squeaked out a decision, then got Wanderlei Silva in a fight that would legitimately be big were it put on in Japan.

Unfortunately for Akiyama, it wasn’t put on anywhere, with Silva falling out with injury. Chris Leben stepped up on short notice, and his dramatic triangle choke victory halted Akiyama’s fledgling momentum.

Only not. After this loss, Akiyama was given Michael Bisping, who was ranked higher than (and held a win over) Chris Leben. Akiyama lost that one, so now he gets a nice, easy build up fight in…Nate Marquardt, an elite top five middleweight.

What gives?

Well Akiyama’s somewhat hefty price tag has a lot to do with it. He made a reported $45,000 against Chris Leben, and stood to make $70,000 with a win.

That’s not exactly Chuck Liddell money, but if you add his “Fight of the Night” bonus money that he always wins, his sponsorship money and any “locker room” bonuses he might (and probably is) getting, well—Yoshihiro Akiyama got paid the entire salary of a “Strikeforce: Challengers” card to get triangled by Chris Leben.

So if you’re paying a guy that much money, the argument goes, he needs to be put in big fights. But there’s another argument that says you shouldn’t throw a prospect you’ve got a lot invested in into one meat grinder after another.

Those have been exciting meat grinders, though. Akiyama has won “Fight of the Night” in every outing. Its that fact more than anything that will keep Akiyama on the payroll in the event he loses to Nate Marquardt at 128.

He’s also an undersized MW, so he could always play the “drop a weightclass” card to keep his spot on the roster. In fact, 170 lbs is where many would like to see him ply his trade anyways, so maybe this loss if it happens could be a blessing in disguise.

Then again, for that money and hype the UFC probably wanted something more then a Japanese Kenny Florian with a killer “blue steel” look.


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