Ever since Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi lost to “Unstoppable” Angela Lee for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship a year and a half ago, she has been diligently working towards a much-desired title rematch.
The 34-year-old Tokyo, Japan resident has polished her strengths and built her confidence up to new heights. But also, during her journey back to the belt, she kept repeating an inspirational mission statement to herself over and over again.
“Be brave, keep challenging everything, and never stop doing the things you want to do,” she states. “I always say that to myself.”
Now, the courageous Yamaguchi (16-10-1) has been granted a second chance. On Friday, 24 November, she will challenge Lee (8-0), the reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion, for the coveted title in the main event of ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT.
The blockbuster extravaganza will broadcast live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and also features ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren defending his title for the last time against former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki. Win or lose, Askren will retire after the blockbuster show.
These two world-class athletes had their first encounter in May 2016, as Yamaguchi made her promotional debut opposite Lee for the inaugural world title at ONE: ASCENT TO POWER. It was an epic clash, which many considered to be the best women’s bout of the year, and one of the finest ever.
The opening two stanzas were a back-and-forth affair full of submission attempts, scrambles, and tense striking exchanges. But only seconds into the third round, the shorter Yamaguchi dropped “Unstoppable” with a devastating cross and nearly knocked Lee out.
Lee recovered, however, and took advantage of the tiring Japanese veteran in the championship rounds with several submission attempts. That helped seal her the unanimous decision win, and most importantly, the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship.
Though heartbroken, “V.V.” took the defeat in stride.
“If I had won, it would have been perfect,” she admitted following the bout. “But still, even though I lost, a lot of people told me they cheered me and said, ‘Congratulations,’ so I did not feel bad. It was okay, because I was able to make the audience excited. That is the thing — I want to keep doing that as a professional athlete.”
Yamaguchi had another disappointing loss later that August, as she dropped a split decision to Brazilian knockout artist Istela Nunes at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD. It was especially difficult, because the Japanese atomweight felt like she had won that contest.
Still, she remained focused and kept challenging herself. That would become Yamaguchi’s theme in 2017.
In the months to follow, she participated in several jiu-jitsu competitions, with her pinnacle achievement being a third-place finish at the IBJJF World Championships this past June.
“V.V.” followed that up with a decisive win over fellow former world title challenger Jenny “Lady GoGo” Huang at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION in Yangon, Myanmar. She controlled the action, and submitted the Taiwanese atomweight via rear-naked-choke in the second round. She finished Huang an entire round sooner than Lee took to do the same.
“I wanted to finish with a rear-naked choke. That was what my coaches and I were planning, and my mission was completed,” she states.
Aside from getting her first promotional victory, the experience of event night in Yangon left a lasting impact, and gave her a renewed perspective.
“The event was really packed and that was kind of amazing. I realized a lot of people see me as a female martial artist who inspires a lot of people in Asia,” she explains. “So to compete in places like Myanmar, it really makes me realize that I need to continue being an athlete who can inspire a lot more people in those places.”
Yamaguchi could become even more inspirational with a victory over the undefeated Lee at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT.
Ever since claiming the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship in their initial meeting in May 2016, Lee has looked more and more dominant.
Last March, “Unstoppable” beat Huang at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM, displaying superb striking and ultimately finishing the judo black belt via TKO. “Unstoppable” followed that up with another stellar performance two months later at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, as she submitted Nunes via anaconda choke.
Making that even more impressive was the fact the Singaporean earned the victory while battling pneumonia the week before the tilt.
Both Lee and Yamaguchi have grown tremendously since their epic clash a year and a half ago, as they have matured and expanded their skill set. That is easy to see. Unlike the last time, however, Yamaguchi is entering this title rematch with her morale at an all-time high.
“Angela had two title defenses and I had two matches, so I think Angela has more confidence by having two title matches and finishing both matches in the early rounds. That will give her a lot of confidence,” she reasons. “For me, I lost against Istela, but thought I won that match, and I finished Jenny Huang, so that gave me a lot of confidence, too.”
She continues, “the most important thing about being a martial artist is having good technique and good heart. Not everyone can get this chance to compete for a world title. I’ve got this chance, so that has given me confidence as a martial artist.”
Now, Yamaguchi is planning to make the most of her second chance. Her new mission is to leave the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday, 24 November, with the world title around her waist, and leave the decision out of the judges’ hands.
“It is going to end early,” she says. “It will be a clear finish by me. It is going to be a knockout.”
Singapore | 24 November | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | PPV: Official Livestream at oneppv.com | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onepursuit17