Nov. 30 will be one of the most important nights of Goiti Yamauchi’s career. The Bellator MMA lightweight standout plans to use Bellator 210 as a showcase of his improved skills and physicality, at the expense of Daniel Weichel, a two-time featherweight title challenger making his debut at 155 pounds.
It will be Yamauchi’s first appearance since his loss to Michael Chandler at Bellator 192 in January. That defeat affected the young Japanese-born Brazilian in an unusual way. On a three-fight winning streak and inching closer to title contention, he saw his aspirations dashed in a one-sided unanimous decision loss, yet instead of viewing that night as forgettable, he sees it as a blessing. “That loss made me feel kind of better,” Yamauchi told Sherdog. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it made me a better man.”
Yamauchi’s thoughts on his defeat are refreshingly positive. “There are no excuses for my last fight. Chandler is a former champion [and] I was so blessed to get that fight, because he taught me a lot of things,” Yamauchi said. It’s odd to think a fighter could feel reinvigorated about his career at age 25, but despite his relative youth, Yamauchi is a veteran of 27 professional mixed martial arts bouts.
In the aftermath of the loss to Chandler, Yamauchi and his team at Academia Arena -- which includes his uncle Ossamu Yamauchi and Rogerio Alemao -- reevaluated their methods and looked for ways to take his abilities to new heights. That reevaluation has manifested itself in adjustments to how he trains; specifically, the intensity and strategy of his training. He believes he is preparing harder and smarter than he ever has before and that he will enter the cage at the WinStar World Casino & Resort in Thackerville, Oklahoma in the best shape of his life and the best version of himself. “This is the time to show the things that I learned. I’m ready for the best performance of my life,” he said.
His opponent, former featherweight stalwart Weichel, owns a 7-2 record in Bellator. However, both losses came at the hands of the most dominant figure in the division’s history, champion Patricio Freire. A change in scenery made sense. Yamauchi can relate. “I did the same thing. I was fighting in featherweight and I moved up to the lightweight division,” said Yamauchi.
Yamauchi has an appreciation for the fellow former featherweight and his impressive 49-fight career. It is another reason why he is working so hard in training. He can’t showcase improvements if he isn’t prepared for the serious test in front of him. “I think it’s the most important fight of my career,” he said.
While he holds the Team MMA Spirit member in high regard, he believes Weichel will be a victim of his heightened drive. “I respect him a lot, but I think I’ll beat him up [in a way where] people will be surprised,” Yamauchi says. “Because I’m really working hard for this fight. I will put on the best performance of my life, believe me.”
This pair of combatants have had great success in the sport. Combined, they own a record of 61-14. It is a level of talent that could be seen in a co-main event bout on many MMA cards. Yet the bout resides on the prelims portion of the event. Its placement did catch the former Iron Fight Combat featherweight champion off guard a bit. “I was surprised [and] my team was surprised,” says Yamauchi. Despite being a regular on Bellator main cards in recent years, he won’t let the diminished spotlight affect his mindset on fight night. “To me it’s just a fight. No matter if I am the first, or the last [fight] of the night. I don’t really worry about it,” he said.
A win on Friday night and a Brent Primus title defense on next weekend at Bellator 212 could put Yamauchi back in the conversation for championship opportunities. Bellator’s lightweight title has not been defended since June of last year, which Yamauchi does not appreciate. “Primus is not an active fighter,” Yamauchi says. “There’s a lot of good fighters in the lightweight division. He’s got to fight at least two times per year. He’s the champion.”
If he were fortunate enough to get an opportunity against the Sports Lab fighter, he feels confident about his chances. “It’s a good match-up for me. I believe my grappling game is the best in the lightweight division. There’s not many people that can fight me on the ground,” he said.
His opinion runs in contrast to comments made by Adam Piccolotti. The Bellator lightweight -- who was defeated by Yamauchi via rear-naked choke in September of 2017 -- recently told Sherdog, “I’m open to a ground battle with anybody. I’m the best grappler in this division. I don’t care what happened in that Goiti fight. I’m better than him, too.” [http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles/When-Getting-Better-Means-Getting-Meaner-142805]
When asked about Piccolotti’s comments, and why he feels he is the best grappler in the division, Yamauchi proclaimed, “The numbers don’t lie. Look at the record for the most submissions in Bellator. I’m not saying I’m the best grappler because I’m a punk [or] a fake. No, I tell the truth. The numbers show how good I am on the ground.” Yamauchi is tied for the most submissions in the promotion’s history with six.
No matter what happens next, lightweight is his home now, and in the future. Although he is not completely opposed to the promotion offering a major fight at 145 pounds, he suspects that featherweight was never the optimal division for him. “I should have never competed in that weight class. I’m not a featherweight. I’m too big,” Yamauchi said. “I’m happier [and] I’m stronger. I’m a lightweight fighter.”