MMA is packed to the edges with sexy fighters. UFC welterweight Alan Jouban is a former male model, and recently signed an endorsement deal with fashion giant Versace. Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and Gina Carano have all graced Maxim’s Hot 100 list. Paige VanZant, Michelle Waterson, Luke Rockhold, and the luxuriantly-locked Elias Theodorou melt hearts wherever they go. But don’t get it twisted, fight fans. When it comes to sexiness, MMA has one true ruler. That fighter is Japanese-Korean welterweight Yoshihiro Akiyama, more widely known by his nickname “Sexyama.”
For all of Akiyama’s chart-topping, heart-stopping sexiness, however, his UFC career thus far has been rather disappointing. Since debuting with the organization at UFC 100 in July of 2009, he’s fought just six times—and just once since 2012. The problem with that is that while sexy fighters are often afforded special opportunities and awarded lucrative sponsorship deals, in the fight game, there’s simply no substitute for fighting. Not even sexiness. And alas, Akiyama just hasn’t been fighting enough.
Luckily, however, that changes this Saturday, when the UFC touches down in Seoul, South Korea with UFC Fight Night 79. On the event’s main card, Akiyama will return to competition for the first time since September 2014, when he takes on undefeated Brazilian Alberto Mina.
Akiyama’s return to competition will not be an easy one. Mina, after all, is not just an undefeated fighter, but one who has never seen the judges’ scorecards. With five knockouts and six submissions among his wins, he’s a venomous finisher who is certainly capable of coaxing a tap from Akiyama, or stopping him on strikes. When Akiyama’s long stretches of inactivity are factored into the equation, things look even bleaker for him. Finally, when Akiyama’s age—he turned 40 in July—and 2-4 UFC record are acknowledged, his chances look slimmer still.
Then again, most betting outlets do peg Akiyama as a modest favorite—generally in the area of -150 to -200. This can probably be attributed to a few things. First, at 33, Mina is no spring chicken himself. Secondly, like Akiyama, Mina is also returning to competition from a lengthy layoff. And finally, Akiyama is simply the more experienced man—he’s competed more times, under brighter lights, against bigger names. This final point, of course, is an edge that can’t be understated. Yet really, what we have in Akiyama vs. Mina is a pick ‘em fight. It’s a fight that, were Akiyama a young contender, he’d be wise to approach very, very carefully.
That’s the great thing about Akiyama, though—he’s just never been one for playing it safe. He slugged it out with Alan Belcher in his high-stakes, UFC debut. He did the same against Chris Leben and Michael Bisping in his next two fights. And though his three most recent bouts haven’t produced quite the same level of chaos, the fact is that he’s won Fight of the Night honors in half of his UFC bouts. And now that he’s 40 years old, with his best days undoubtedly behind him, we can expect the decorated Judoka to go for it with even more fervor. Because, really, what’s he got to lose?
Akiyama’s looming comeback is something every sane fight fan is looking forward to, but let’s not misidentify it. This will probably not mark the 40-year-old’s return to regular competition. It’s also unlikely to kick off a late-career title run. Instead, this fight will probably be one of his last chances to get out there, work his vaunted judo, let his hands fly, and pick up another bonus check. Considering the fight will be in South Korea, his ancestral home and the country he represented in the 2001 Asian Judo Championships, he’s even more likely to go out there and put on a show. Yes, Akiyama’s home-turf comeback against Alberta Mina is likely to be one of his last fights ever. As such, look for him to end things with a bang, before riding off, sexy as ever, into the MMA sunset.
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