Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi is starting to really feel a sense of urgency when it comes to her professional career as a martial artist.
Once a top contender, the Japanese atomweight is attempting to catapult herself back into the title picture, and is desperately trying to avoid the first three-fight skid of her career.
She expects to solve both dilemmas on Friday, 30 June, when she meets another former title contender in Jenny “Lady Gogo” Huang at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION, which broadcasts live from the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar.
“I need to get a better record and, of course, I want to fight against ONE Women’s Atomweight Champion Angela Lee again,” the 34-year-old states. “So I really need to win this fight to see that happen.”
Yamaguchi made two appearances in the organization last year. First, she debuted and fell short against Lee in a thrilling five-round affair for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship at ONE: ASCENT TO POWER in May 2016.
Then, she dropped a split decision to eventual title challenger Istela Nunes at ONE: HEREOS OF THE WORLD later that August.
In both instances, the Tokyo resident and her team felt like she won the two bouts. Even so, she realized the only way to guarantee victory moving forward is to keep her fate out of the judges’ hands.
“It was frustrating,” she admits. “But what I need to do to is finish with a clear submission or knockout, so I just need to work on that.”
For the past ten months, during her time away from the cage, “V.V.” has been improving her techniques by entering martial arts competitions, and focusing on her ability to finish.
Most notably, Yamaguchi has concentrated on her Brazilian jiu-kitsu. At the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam: Tokyo 2017 Tournament, she placed second in the women’s brown and black belt division at 55kg.
She also participated in the IBJJF 2017 World Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Long Beach, California, where she placed third in the adult women’s brown belt division in the light-feather weight category.
“I have been doing jiu-jitsu a lot, because I really thought I needed to have more skills to finish fights. Jiu-jitsu gives me a lot of techniques to do that, so I was into it,” she explains. “It has given me a lot of confidence for my ground game.”
“V.V.” also returned to her first love of karate, the martial art she initially learned as a 7-year-old living in Los Angeles, California. This past May, she competed in a regional Tokyo tournament with her team, and together, they earned second place.
While she is looking to add more “finishing” skills to her repertoire, she says there is another reason why she has competed so regularly as of late.
“I get fat if I do not compete. I need to control my weight, so I will just compete,” she jokes with a chuckle. “But it gives me a lot of confidence in fighting, both my standing and ground games, and it all has been within these past two months. It has been fun.”
Now, in just a few short weeks at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION, she will try to apply what she has learned in recent months against Huang. But that could be easier said than done.
Like her Japanese counterpart, Huang has been working on her game — her grappling skills, in particular — and is also looking to reenter title contention.
After starting her mixed martial arts career with five consecutive victories, the Taiwanese atomweight received her lone blemish this past March ,when she unsuccessfully challenged Lee for the title at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM.
Since that fateful encounter, the judo black belt has traveled to Yamaguchi’s stomping grounds of Tokyo, where she has extensively practiced her wrestling and striking alongside some of Japan’s top female athletes at the highly-regarded AACC.
However, Yamaguchi is a formidable grappler herself, and she sees a few holes in Huang’s game that she can exploit.
“I know she is a really good grappler. I do not know about her striking, but if she saw my fight against Angela Lee, then I know she is going to get ready for my striking too,” Yamaguchi acknowledges.
“I think she will come really hard at me, and she is confident in her grappling, so she will try to go for a submission. But I will be ready for that.”