With two losses and a sole points decision win, "Sexyama" seems to be on his way out of the UFC; and if not quite yet, he's at least on very thin ice indeed. One more loss could see the end of Akiyama's participation in MMA's premier organization. This would be a shame.
First off, Akiyama, in losing his past two fights, has given UFC fans more entertainment and excitement than arguably more decisive fights in the cards he has been involved in.
Fans in the US may not be acquainted with Akiyama and his impressive Judo credentials but they can't argue his appearances on the UFC 100, 116, and 120 cards haven't taken away the breath at times. His fight against Chris Leben is easily the best fight of 2010 to date—and this is a year where some amazing high quality contest have happened.
The three fights of the night honours in a row points to a competitor who is not exactly the most risk-averse when it comes to taking chances in the ring. You won't get defensive fights with Sexyama.
A second more nuanced point is the exact manner of his competitive matches and under what conditions they have taken place.If I were to make excuses for Akiyama's record, a good one which springs to mind is the late replacement of Silva with Chris Leben for UFC 116.
He was forced to study a completely different competitor (who fights southpaw and has a much more bombastic style) and forget his long-planned gameplan for Wanderlei, a fighter he had presumably been planning to fight for months by that stage. It was no surprise then the fight was so chaotic.
For his first fight, Akiyama continued the fight despite a broken orbital bone in the second round, while for the Bisping fight, Akiyama fought Bisping in front of a passionate pro-Bisping English crowd, which it seemed Bisping arguably drew upon to give him the energy and motivation that one can only get competing in front of friends, family and countrymen (on top of his always excellent cardio, of course).
People underestimate the psychological advantage that competitors get from competing in front of "home" crowds and the statistics bear this out for a wide variety of martial and non-martial sports.
A third issue I would like to raise is that Sexyama is simply good for business and Dana White must have recognised this when he signed him. Sexyama is very popular in his home country and raises the profile of the UFC with Asian fans. Getting rid of Sexyama prematurely could scupper expansion into this market. One could imagine a UFC event in Japan being headlined by Akiyama for instance.
And so what can Akiyama do himself to avoid the dreaded UFC career-ending loss? I think everyone knows Akiyama's cardio has been very disappointing at times. In all of his three fights he has been unable to "put away" his competitors the longer the fight continues, which may explain his strategy in the last fight of simply trying to put Bisping out early a la Dan Henderson, despite his impressive attempts at going the distance with Belcher and Leben (a fight he would likely have won on points).
Another thing I would like to see more of is his wrestling and grappling skills in the clinch. Akiyama is quite good at very close quarters and his judo throws would be more useful in such situations. Judges look very favourably on those, as opposed to, say, successful takedown defences as in the last fight. He has a strong jaw, so getting close shouldn't be a problem if he's worried he might get a hit or two.
But now I think of it, I kind of like Akiyama just the way he is as a fighter now. His weaknesses change the dynamics in his fights and make them much more interesting than say a Brock Lesnar steamroller fight or a GSP methodical breakdown. You just know with Akiyama that he seemingly fights a timer within the official timer before he gasses and so his risk taking either pays off or it doesn't.
Concluding, I think that's the best thing about Akiyama—you just don't know which way the fight can go, even right in the middle of them and I think fans will pay to see that...win or lose.
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