Great and Obscure Strikers #1: Mamoru Yamaguchi
It is no secret around here that I have a great affinity for strikers, particularly those who can make wrestlers think twice about spamming takedown attempts. There is an embarrassment of riches in terms of talented strikers now entering the sport of MMA, simply because of the declining state of kickboxing and the growing purses and exposure of Mixed Martial Arts competition. My fondness of Japanese MMA stems from my fandom in the PRIDE FC days, and my taking up wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Tokyo while over there training my striking, and I have made sure to keep up to date with the current crop of talent working it's way through Shooto in hopes of DREAM FC returning to the form PRIDE FC was on. For the die hard fans of JMMA this list will provide nothing new, but those who are perhaps only familiar with the major U.S. promotions, this will provide an interesting little guide to some of the more entertaining fighters Asia has to offer.
Mamoru "The Fro" Yamaguchi
One of the premier names in the flyweight (125 lbs) division for the last five years, a Shooto champion and one of the most dynamic fighters in Japanese MMA. Mamoru Yamaguchi fights in Thai style shorts and is responsible for more dropped or KOd opponents in Shooto's oversized (5 oz.) gloves than anyone at 125lbs.The first time I saw Yamaguchi fight I realised two things; the first was that the Japanese can grow afros - quite impressive ones at that, and the second was that in the 125 pound division, which is so little heard about due to lack of explosive finishes or big names, KOs can happen. I happened to discover Yamaguchi through his fight in Shooto with Stonnie Dennis, which Yamaguchi finished by establishing the Thai clinch on Dennis' neck, pushing him into the ropes, and knocking him out cold with a beautiful head kick.
Yamaguchi's hands are as fast an furious as you'd expect from a flyweight fighter, and his kicks are heavy, but what is most interesting about Yamaguchi to die hard fans is that he, just as Anderson Silva has done, has negated the majority of his opponent's takedown attempts through mastery of the clinch from a striking perspective. Watch his destruction of Frank Baca as the latter struggles to gain underhooks on the smaller, craftier Yamaguchi.
Much of Yamaguchi's success from a technical perspective is not from his superior fighting at range, but rather in his ability to fight out of the clinch. The Stonnie Dennis knockout and his dropping of Frank Baca above were both initiated from clinch range. As the Dennis kick shows, Mamoru likes to catch opponent's with their hands down as they disengage from the clinch - a signature technique of Jack Dempsey, referred to in his book "Championship Fighting" as "The Sneaker". If the referee breaks a clinch, it is illegal to strike your opponent and you risk disqualification, but if your opponent disengages, or you push him away from you, it is entirely legal to strike him. In the former case, opponent's often get lazy, as demonstrated here by Kitahara:
Here, in an American promotion (Yamaguchi is one of the few Japanese stars to have success on American soil in recent years), "The Fro" uses a shove from clinch range to push his opponent against the cage. The opponent's hands come down to balance himself (a technique I break down in detail here) and Mamoru demolishes him with a tight left hook.
If you aren't familiar with the work of Mamoru Yamaguchi it is well worth a look. He may not always win, his grappling has cost him before, but his record is sterling, he's fought successfully on American soil and he knocks out much bigger men in a weight class known for it's sparsity of finishes. It is no exaggeration to call him the best technical striker at flyweight, having a 35 fight record and never losing via KO or even to a fighter with less that superb Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A trawl through his fights on youtube is an excellent way to waste an afternoon.
Jack Slack now blogs at his brand new website www.fightsgoneby.com
He can also be found on Twitter @JackSlackMMA
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