After an injury forced Meng Bo to once again withdraw from facing her in the cage, Mei Yamaguchi will take on late notice replacement Laura Balin at ONE Championship: Enter the Dragon this Friday, May 17, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Balin enters the contest looking to turn around a two-fight skid, while Yamaguchi attempts to build a case for a third rematch with ONE atomweight champion Angela Lee by putting together a three-fight win streak. It will be Yamaguchi’s first bout since competing in her hometown of Tokyo, Japan, at ONE Championship: A New Era this past March, an experience the fighter relished.
“It was exciting… it’s like my dream come true,” Yamaguchi said in an interview with John Hyon Ko for The Body Lock.
“It was amazing, all the fighters I know, and ONE Championship staff was in Tokyo, my hometown…. it was fun.”
Although Yamaguchi hadn’t fought in Japan since 2015, she used the most of the home field advantage by submitting Kseniya Lachkova with an armbar in the third round of their atomweight scrap, despite having some nerves about performing in front of her friends and family.
“Even I felt a little [nervous]… I didn’t try to think about it too much, I tried to focus on what I need[ed] to do in the cage. And you know, the event was just like [events in other countries], so I didn’t feel like I was in Japan that much, so I think that was good. I was able to do what I always do in ONE Championship.”
After her victory, Yamaguchi joined several of the promotion’s athletes and employees at the ONE Elite Retreat, an annual event for fighters that was held this year in Phuket, Thailand. While there was plenty of relaxation and festivities to be had, the former atomweight title challenger also learned a lot about the business side of mixed martial arts during the excursion.
“We had [training on] how to use the SNS (social network sites) effectively, and how do we show ourselves as professionals to get [sponsorships] and stuff. It’s all about how do we advertise ourselves as professional fighters… it’s a great opportunity for the fighters.”
The fact that training and guidance were given to athletes on how to market themselves during the retreat isn’t surprising, especially with ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong recently announcing his plans to create a “universe” under the promotion that includes films, television series, and other live events.
Still, for Yamaguchi, the drive to compete isn’t so much about becoming a star as it is seeing the hard work she’s put in over years pay off.
“I’ve been fighting for a long, long time… I think about all the days I’ve been preparing for these big things, [I] just don’t wanna stop….I need to relax sometimes but you know if I can be active as much as possible, I just wanna keep going.”
You can check out the rest of the interview with John Hyon Ko below.