Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-2) was all set to face Wanderlei Silva at UFC 116, but less than two weeks before the fight, Chris Leben stepped in on short notice to replace Silva, who had to pull out with an injury.
The two engaged in a riveting, back-and-forth brawl, but late in the final round Akiyama tapped out after Leben secured a tight triangle choke. During a recent UFC media call to discuss his UFC 120 main event bout on Oct. 16 in London against Michael Bisping (20-3), Akiyama — speaking through an interpreter — admitted that the late change in opponents affected his performance.
“He felt as though whether it was striking or grappling, Akiyama had the advantage over Chris Leben,” Akiyama’s interpreter Ryo Ishibashi said. “However, there were certain things that were holding him back from fighting his best in that fight. He felt like he didn’t have enough time to prepare for his opponent. And so during the fight he wasn’t able to come up with a strategy that is specifically for Chris Leben.”
Not only has Akiyama had a full camp to prepare for Bisping, but he’s also joined forces with Greg Jackson and company in Albuquerque, N.M. Jackson not only trains some of the sports best fighters, but has also previously guided one of his protégés, Rashad Evans, to a win over Bisping.
“He was able to learn the intricate skills of the takedowns, as well as better striking for MMA,” Ishibashi said of Akiyama’s training with the Jackson team. “And, most of all, he was able to learn how to deliver a good three rounds of fight in the cage.”
The difference between fighting in a ring — the combat venue of choice in the Japanese K-1 and DREAM promotions where Akiyama rose to prominence — can require a lengthy transition period. But with two fights in the Octagon to his credit, including the loss to Leben and a win over Alan Belcher, Akiyama feels much more comfortable in the cage.
“He feels like over the past two fights he has been able to acclimate to the fighting style of that in the cage,” Ishibashi said. “And to him the win and the loss both are very important keys in what affects his fighting style. So the past two fights have been very good for him.”