Mei Yamaguchi has come up short in two ONE Championship title shots, but not by much. Her first fight with Angela Lee was definitely close, and the Japanese fighter is entitled to believe she won the second. With her former nemesis now at strawweight the coast is clear for another run at the belt.

Yamaguchi faces Jomary Torres in Kuala Lumpur this Friday. Their matchup is one of two atomweight fights on the card at ONE: ‘Destiny of Champions’ and the title picture in that division could be a lot clearer come next week. For the 35 year old there is one clear goal.

“I think it’s a really great chance to show my skills, and make a statement that I want to fight for the title in Japan,” she said.

Unpredictable

ONE Championship’s first ever Tokyo event is booked for March 31st. It represents a realistic ambition for Yamaguchi but first she has to overcome the challenge posed by a Filipina fighter 13 years her junior.

“I think I have more skills in striking but if I try to throw strikes I know she will look to counter with takedowns over and over again. She’s always trying to look for takedowns, especially double legs,” Yamaguchi said.

Perversely Yamaguchi thinks her opponent’s lack of experience makes her unpredictable and potentially more dangerous than a seasoned fighter would be.

“If you have more experience, you end up competing against experienced fighters most of the time but some of the newer fighters will do things that you don’t always expect from an experienced fighter so I need to be aware of that in this bout.”

Fighting to finish

However Yamaguchi knows that if she wants to make a compelling case for a Tokyo title shot the manner of victory could matter. All 11 of her losses came in fights which went the distance and she’s not had much luck with the judges, so the Japanese fighter is looking for an emphatic finish on Friday.

“I think I need to produce a clean finish in this fight, for sure. I’ve been learning more striking combinations so I can find more opportunities to win the bout on the feet. I really want to get more experience using my striking in matches, so I want to get that finish.

“She’s pretty strong, and most of her movement is pretty powerful, so I think that’s what I need to be most aware of. I know that, every time, she will look to go for the takedown, and I need to be aware of that all the way through the fight.”

Yamaguchi holds a BJJ black belt and has spent the best part of two hours competing in the ONE Championship ring or cage. She’s been the distance with the likes of Mina Kurobe, Ayaka Hamasaki, Seo Hee Ham, Emi Fujino and Megumi Fujii as well as those two five rounders with Angela Lee.

Extensive experience 

It gives her a huge amount of experience to fall back on and she firmly believes this will be the key to victory in Kuala Lumpur.

“My experience allows me to stay calm and adapt my approach so I can find my way out of any difficult situations that happen during the bout. That’s a good advantage for me.”

Yamaguchi has seven submission wins to her name but has never been submitted. Her grappling credentials are obvious but she sees Friday’s fight with Torres ending a little differently.

“She’s a good grappler but I think I have a really good chance to finish her (and) hopefully the finish will come on the feet. It’s all about the strategy.”