Hello World, My Name Is… – Yasuhiro Urushitani
Those fight fans who primarily follow the UFC are going to be exposed to an entirely new segment of MMA this weekend when the Flyweight division makes its debut in the world’s premiere organization. To some, particularly fans of the WEC and the long-running Japanese organizations, this debut has been long awaited. 125lb fighters will finally get the chance to ply their trade on the biggest stage in the world, after years of being relegated to the likes of Shooto, Pancrase and Tachi Palace Fights. No discredit to those organizations, but they are all a far cry from the level of exposure and financial security the UFC offers.
The Flyweight division will get a royal introduction to UFC fans, as it kicks off with a 4-man tournament to crown the organization’s inaugural Flyweight Champion. Half of the tournament participants are already very well known to fans, as Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson have both fought for iterations of the Bantamweight title, and cemented themselves as top 135ers in the sport. Not surprisingly, these two are also the favourites to meet in the final. Ian McCall, while not as prominent as those two, has fought in the WEC, and because of his engaging personality
However, I’d like to highlight the competitor in the tournament who has gotten the least ink leading up to Saturday morning’s happenings in Australia. Despite being the most accomplished at Flyweight of all the fighters competing for the belt, Yasuhiro Urushitani has hardly been heard from or about. Part of this is due to the language barrier, and part of it is due to the fact that Urushitani’s first round opponent is Joseph Benavidez, the odds on favourite to take the entire tournament. Despite these two factors, it is criminal that a man who has been at the top of the Flyweight division for its entire history is being summarily dismissed.
The entirety of Urushitani’s career has been fought in Japan, with all but one bout being contested in Shooto and Cage Force. Despite being involved in the first Shooto Bantamweight (123lb) Title fight in 2003 and also fighting for the belt in 2007, Urushitani only won the title in May of 2010. Defending the title once, he has since vacated the belt to move to the UFC.
Yasuhiro has long been known for his style of counter striking and generally frustrating his opponents, often en route to decision victories (14 of his 19 wins have come on the judges cards). His primary weapons are the jab and low kicks, which can give fighters fits, especially if they are not technically sound. Bringing these tools from the southpaw stance seems to amplify their effects, and while I am among those picking Benavidez to defeat Urushitani, I would not be surprised to see the former WEC Bantamweight Title challenger drop the first round as he tries to decode Yasuhiro’s style.
Despite his penchant for going to decisions, Urushitani seems to have opened up as of late, evidenced by the three stoppages he has obtained in his past five fights. Compared to the two stoppage victories he had accumulated in his previous 24 bouts, Urushitani is a certifiable killing machine at this point in his career. Below you’ll find two fights which characterize the Flyweight pioneer’s current string of stoppages, as well as his more traditional form.
First, Urushitani’s first fight after winning the Shooto title, a characteristically (at least for Shooto) non-title bout against Takuya Mori:
And one of Urushitani’s biggest fights, the rematch between him and Mamoru Yamaguchi, the fighter who beat him to initially capture the 123lb title:
As I have already said, I don’t like Urushitani’s chances come Saturday morning (or Friday night in North America), but the man deserves the respect of acknowledging what he’s accomplished in the Flyweight division, and for the challenges he brings to the cage against Joseph Benavidez. As the career of the 35 year-old begins to wind down, it is only fitting that he is still around to see the division he has been as instrumental in as any other fighter finally make it to the apex of the sport.