Quickest Way to Title Shot: Mei Yamaguchi Talks Being Atomweight World Grand Prix Alternate

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As the old proverb goes: “speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.”

Platitude or not, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more suitable athlete to fit this moniker than the likes of Mei Yamaguchi. Hailing from Tokyo, Japan, don’t be deceived by Yamaguchi’s soft-spoken tone, her proverbial stick comes in the form of lightning quick hands and a slick submission game which has earned her 21 victories as a professional mixed martial artist.

In her last fight, Yamaguchi lost a hard fought decision against undefeated rising star Denice Zamboanga. The loss would snap “V.V’s” four-fight winning streak which stretched from 2018 to 2020.

Nonetheless, the 34-fight veteran is determined to climb back into the rankings and re-enter title contention. That journey starts with a date in the Circle opposite promotional newcomer Julie Mezabarba at ONE: EMPOWER, which broadcasts live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium this Friday, September 3.

“I’m guessing [Mezabarba is] pretty strong and physical. She has pretty aggressive striking,” said the 38-year-old Yamaguchi.

“I want to show my skills in boxing too but if I can submit her that’s the best way.”

Having been entrenched in the fight game since 2007, long before MMA gained legitimate mainstream popularity, Yamaguchi has seen it. She will be serving as an alternate in the highly anticipated ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix, a spot which the veteran athlete knows is more luxurious than it seems.

“It’s the quickest way to challenge for a title, so if there’s a chance, I’d love to be a part of the Grand Prix anytime,” Yamaguchi said.

“It’s always exciting fighting against new faces and if you win the first round you see the next fighter in the second round. You know who will come, which is exciting for the fighter and the audiences. This time it’s one match for me but I’m always looking for a chance to get in there.”

When Yamaguchi steps into the Circle on Friday, it will mark her first fight in more than a calendar year. Even so, she leads the field in terms of experience, three bouts ahead of Seo Hee Ham, the next closest to Yamaguchi in terms of experience among all ONE: EMPOWER participants.

“Until the last moment you really don’t know what will happen in these kinds of tournaments so I’ll be ready all the time,” said Yamaguchi.

“I know a lot of fighters who have won tournaments from the [alternate spot], so I look forward to that chance, too.”

ONE: EMPOWER is ONE Championship’s historic, all-female fight card featuring only women — the first for a major global martial arts organization. In the main event, reigning ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan defends her World Title against #2-ranked strawweight contender, Michelle Nicolini.

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