Goiti Yamauchi may not be fighting for a belt at Bellator Japan, but he’s expecting the experience to be unlike any other in his professional career.
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Yamauchi will return to his place of birth as part of Bellator and RIZIN’s ongoing cross-promotion, an opportunity that the 26-year-old lightweight is not taking for granted.
“For me it’s very important because this is [an] opportunity to show who I am to my people, to Japanese people,” Yamauchi told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “This is the first time ever that I will be competing out there.”
Yamauchi was born in Japan, but he left the country at a young age. He was around four years old the last time he stepped foot in his home country.
In pursuit of his career in MMA, Yamauchi began competing in Brazil at the age of 17. His first 15 professional bouts took place in Brazil before he was signed by Bellator in 2013 after amassing a 14-1 record.
All of Yamauchi’s Bellator fights have taken place in the United States; that is until this opportunity came about.
“I cannot lie to you. I’m very happy. I’m very, very happy, especially because I’m going to see my people, my family,” Yamauchi said of his return to Japan. “There’s a part of my family out there, so I’m very excited.”
It has long been a goal of his to one day compete under the lights inside Saitama Super Arena, and, pretty soon, Yamauchi will be able to check that off of his bucket list.
“For me, it’s even better than MSG (Madison Square Garden), you know, because this is a dream come true,” he said. “… I cannot even imagine how amazing it will be when I’ll be there in the middle of Saitama. For sure I will be happy, but I must be cold and confident and just have to focus on the result and the fight, not in the crowd.
“After the fight, I can enjoy myself in Saitama, but till there I have to focus on the result. I really, really want to win this fight.”
Goiti Yamauchi vs. Daron Cruickshank
The Japanese-born lightweight will face a RIZIN staple in Daron Cruickshank on the main card of Bellator Japan on Saturday, Dec. 28.
Cruickshank has compiled a 5-4 record since joining the Japanese promotion, and he has earned a number of fans for his willingness to throw down at any moment in the fight.
Yamauchi called the matchup with Cruickshank “fun” and “interesting,” and while the RIZIN veteran comes in on a two-fight skid, Yamauchi isn’t taking this task lightly.
“He got his skills,” Yamauchi said. “He’s very good on the feet, with the kicks. There’s a lot of skills, good abilities.”
And though it would be in Cruickshank’s best interest to avoid entertaining Yamauchi’s dangerous ground game, Yamauchi predicts that Cruickshank, like many of his opponents before, will shoot for a takedown after getting a taste of Yamauchi’s striking.
“I think he will try to take me down for sure,” Yamauchi said. “Sometime in the fight, he will try to do it. I know he likes to strike, but when he start[s] to feel the pressure, he [will] try to take me down for sure.”
No matter what Cruickshank decides to throw at him, Yamauchi feels prepared to do what it takes to pull out a victory.
“I know I faced the top of this division,” he said. “I’ve been growing myself during the last year, you know, so I am different level now. I’m not the same guy who fought Michael Chandler. I’m not the same guy who fought Daniel Weichel. I’m totally different. I’m even better than the guy who fought Saad Awad a couple months ago.
“So I know he’s not ready for this level mentally. Mentally he’s not ready, I’m sure about that.”
Goiti Yamauchi on Bellator’s lightweight division
Yamauchi is going into this bout knowing that a win over Cruickshank won’t do much for his stock in the Bellator lightweight division.
He’s certainly excited for the opportunity ahead of him, but it wasn’t his first choice. Yamauchi originally called out Benson Henderson for an interim lightweight title fight, as the current lightweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire is competing in the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix.
“I called Ben Henderson because for me, he’s the best name in [the] division,” Yamauchi said. “He’s a living legend, one of the best lightweights in the history.”
Putting his ego aside, Yamauchi believes that Freire and Chandler occupy the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the Bellator lightweight division respectively. After that, he believes it is between himself and Henderson.
“That is why I want them to make this fight happen because I’m really interested to see how this fight can happen,” Yamauchi said. “How is [it] going to happen in the feet, on the ground? Who’s going to dominate? I really want to see this fight happening someday.”
A match with Henderson is at the top of Yamauchi’s wishlist heading into the new year, but the 26-year-old has his sights set on more. He wants others to see that he belongs among the elite lightweights, and he expects to get the chance to prove that eventually.
“I have patience,” Yamauchi said. “I don’t rush. I just take my time. I know it’s going to take some time to be the champion; one, two, three fights more. I just don’t care. I just want to fight. I just want to compete with the best in [the] division. Michael Chandler, Ben Henderson, whatever. I’ll be ready.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.