Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi has found her confidence.
The 34-year-old Tokyo, Japan resident just experienced her best year in ONE Championship, as she submitted Jenny “Lady GoGo” Huang in June, and avenged her loss to Gina Iniong this past November with a clear-cut unanimous decision victory.
At some point next year, she will challenge ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela “Unstoppable” Lee for the title, and attempt to avenge yet another loss.
Everything is lining up for Yamaguchi. In 2018, she has the chance to write her legend as one of Asia’s most inspirational female martial artists, something which her heart greatly desires.
Fittingly enough, she initially started to her martial arts journey because of a certain living legend.
As a 7-year-old growing up in Los Angeles, California, she was inspired to try her hand at karate. During the 80s and early 90s, that particular martial art was becoming popular in the American mainstream, and after watching a few Hollywood blockbusters featuring her favorite actor, she was driven to attend a karate class.
“I loved Jackie Chan, so I wanted to be like him, because most of his movies are happy and I loved that. I liked how he entertained the audience, and so I started learning martial arts,” she explains.
Like Chan does in the cinema, “V.V.” wanted to excite the masses, as well. The only difference is her chosen avenue to do that is in the athletic field.
“When I compete, I always want to make the audience happy, and that is why I do not like boring games or other athletes who are just looking for points.
“I always wanted to entertain, and have the audience feel like they are watching a movie, so Jackie Chan always inspired me in my childhood. He continues to inspire me as a martial artist, too.”
That led Yamaguchi to learning other disciplines such as kickboxing, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, in which she was recently awarded her black belt.
As fate would have it, her family relocated back to Tokyo, Japan, soon after her initial karate lessons. She attended Fujimuri Girls Junior High School & High School. It is an institution that has been known for educating and training world-class athletes, and just walking down the halls with these students positively rubbed off on Yamaguchi.
“There were a lot of good athletes there, even Olympic athletes were my classmates. They impressed me with how hard they trained,” she reveals.
“Like the gymnastics girls, they really train like 360 days a year. They only have days off on New Year’s and maybe three other days, and that made them become Olympic athletes.
“So a lot of my classmates from high school inspired me, and so have my teammates and my female athlete friends. Everyone gives me power.”
Being Japanese, “V.V.” also draws a tremendous amount of power from her roots. Yamaguchi absolutely loves her nation’s culture and traditions, and reads a lot of books about historical figures. In particular, she has a penchant for literature about samurais.
Beyond that, she truly appreciates the attitude and mindset that are typically associated with Japan and her fellow compatriots.
“A lot of people are really humble, always have respect, and they care about other people before they care about themselves,” she states. “I think that is really beautiful.”
Perhaps the last big piece of inspiration comes from the people, most notably her fans.
Truthfully speaking, Yamaguchi never really considered herself a global role model, nor did she ever possess an outstanding confidence in her elite abilities. However, that started to change drastically following her epic tilt with Lee in May 2016.
“I did a lot of interviews, and everyone asked me how great is it to inspire a lot of women in Asia, and to be honest, I really did not think about those things until they asked me, because I did not think I was inspiring. I did not believe I was going to be a famous martial artist,” she admits.
“When the title match ended, I noticed a lot of people were really surprised. They told me I was brave and I had a lot of heart, and I thought that was really nice. That is when I felt strongly about the things they were asking, like how I am inspiring women in Asia. I felt that I was not inspiring, but actually I was.
“Right now, I feel like I need to realize that more, and believe in myself that I can inspire. It is my job to give a lot of people a dream, and prove that your dreams can come true.”
Yamaguchi can realize her own dream of becoming a world champion next year, if she is able to defeat the “Unstoppable” prodigy.
Also, if she were to succeed in her mission, she could become an even bigger heroine in all of Asia, inspire more people on an even bigger scale, and maybe — just maybe — get the opportunity to appear alongside her childhood hero, Jackie Chan, in one of his movies.
If that were to happen though, it would only be a cameo of sorts.
“I am a little small,” she laughs, “so maybe I can get into a teddy bear suit and do some action.”