Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi knows how to learn from her mistakes.
The Japanese warrior has competed at the elite level of mixed martial arts for 11 years, and has found plenty of success after facing the hardships of defeat.
Most recently, she demonstrated that at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT last November, in her rematch with Team Lakay’s Gina “Conviction” Iniong. Yamaguchi lost a split decision when they first met in March 2014, but responded with a dominant showing of grappling to earn a clear-cut unanimous decision victory.
“It was four years ago when I fought Gina the first time, and I knew what I needed to do. It was just like my practice – adjusting my technique so it would show in the fight,” says the 35-year-old.
“Sometimes, it is kind of hard to prepare for a fight and then do it inside the cage. But that one was just like my practice. I was able to show what I trained. It gave me more confidence.”
Now, Yamaguchi will have a second consecutive opportunity to avenge a prior loss.
On Friday, 18 May, she will challenge ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee in the main event of ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS. The historic show, which features three incredible world title bouts, takes place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The first time these two heroes clashed was in May 2016 at ONE: ASCENT FOR POWER. It was Yamaguchi’s promotional debut, and she was facing Lee for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship.
The contest turned out to be a five-round thriller that won Bout Of The Year 2016. It was a gripping back-and-forth affair, but Lee earned a decision victory, and the coveted title.
Replicating her training in the cage has been a problem in the past for Yamaguchi, but a different issue affected her ahead of her first bout against the Singaporean.
“V.V.” explains that her striking training was compromised, because she didn’t have a boxing coach during her training camp. Despite that, Yamaguchi still managed to floor Lee with a huge overhand right, and very nearly seized the belt right there.
This time around, she has found the right coaching staff. She also believes she is even slicker with her hands than ever before.
“In the first fight against Angela, I did not have a boxing coach, because my previous boxing coach got ill, and he could not teach me anymore,” Yamaguchi explains.
“Then I could not find a new coach. Because I do karate, I wanted a coach that could understand that and teach me new stuff, so it was hard for me to look for a new coach.
“Now I have a new coach, and he taught me a lot of new techniques to transform my karate and kickboxing into mixed martial arts. I think I have improved a lot in that area.”
Another key factor for Yamaguchi compared to two years ago is her familiarity with her opponent.
Because she has faced Lee before, Yamaguchi believes she knows what to expect out of the atomweight queen, and that will allow her to make the necessary adjustments to emerge with her hand raised this time.
“It is pretty obvious that I am really confident in both the ground game and boxing,” she says. “I have been fighting for more than 10 years. I have had good coaching, I have been to good jiu-jitsu gyms, but I still had positions that I was worried about in a fight.
“Now I am becoming more perfect in any position. I have fewer things that I am worried about, and I think that has given me a lot of confidence. I have nothing to worry about right now.
“I remember how she moves. I felt it. I remember her aggression. Because I fought her before, my body kind of remembers all of her moves. I am well prepared in everything she does, and that will give me more confidence than the first time.”
Yamaguchi will need every advantage she can get. Not only is she facing an unbeaten world champion who holds a victory over her, she will be competing in her opponent’s hometown in front of a partisan crowd at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
With that in the back of her mind, the Japanese warrior believes in order to capture the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship, she must put on a dominant performance so everyone knows who the division’s best athlete truly is.
“That is the first priority for me, and I am well prepared for that. I am working on my boxing, my ground game, and my submissions. That is my first priority.
“Even if it goes five rounds, the last time when I first fought her we were moving a lot. Both of us were looking for the submission, and I was tired in the fourth and fifth rounds. Now I am working on how I can relax more, so if it goes the full five rounds, I can still move a lot. I am prepared for both of those scenarios.”