Fighter of Interest: Yusuke Yachi

Yusuke Yachi
Yachi always brings a funky new look with his hair. © RIZIN FF

From Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto to Kyoji Horiguchi, the KRAZY BEE gym has consistently produced fearless, brick-fisted knockout artists. With Horiguchi splitting time at American Top TeamRIZIN lightweight Yusuke Yachi (20-6 MMA, 5-0 RIZIN) has emerged as the standard bearer for the prestigious team.

A gentle soul sporting a big smile and funky hair, Tokyo’s Yachi flips a switch when its time to compete.

Japanese MMA entrances put the UFC to shame.

His wild striking has been reckless at times, but the 28-year-old Yachi has slowly but surely evolved into a more measured, craftier counter puncher.

If you like spirited brawling, heavy-handed southpaws, and sneaky counters, this is your boy. Relive his RIZIN lightweight run through GIFs and brief analysis.

This is Fighter of Interest, where underrated, under the radar, or underappreciated fighters from an upcoming event are brought to light.

RIZIN 12
Fighter of Interest: Yusuke Yachi

Yachi put in five years in the Pacific’s finest regional promotions at featherweight. A skinny lad at the time, Yachi still managed to bring the heat.

A joyous celebration.

Competing for organizations like ShootoPancrase, and PXC, Yachi encountered a number of Japanese veterans, as well as future stars in Alexander Volkanovski and Kleber Koike Erbst.

It wasn’t until he moved up to 155 pounds in 2016 that Yusuke Yachi embarked on one of the most impressive, and exciting win streaks outside of the UFC.

Fists of Fury

Yachi’s final bout in Pancrase was a raw, hard-earned victory. He took on Yuki Yamasaki, a top-position grappler who had been able to implement his game over inexperienced opponents.

It was not a clean performance by any means. Yachi gave up several takedowns resulting in extended periods fighting off his back. Some fighters struggle to act when there is a clear sense of urgency. Yusuke Yachi has never had a problem pulling the trigger.

With great intensity, he walked his man to the cage and threw nothing but murder-balls. While Yachi is well-muscled and has a solid athletic base, the power in his punches is amplified by the exaggerated rotation of his shoulders and hips.

Yachi essentially won the fight with that final, vicious assault.

Because of this, Yachi does best when throwing in combinations, backing up his opponents. When he throws single shots, and when he ends a sequence, Yachi will often be completely off balance and without secure footing.

While he was still a work in progress, Yusuke Yachi had caught the eye of the burgeoning RIZIN Fighting Federation.

RIZIN

It took 19 seconds for Yusuke Yachi to show the world what he was about. Mario Sismundo was completely outmatched. Using overwhelming pressure, Yachi backed his adversary into a corner before crushing him with a flying knee to the liver.

It looks like Yachi grew an afro and straightened it?

RIZIN officials wasted no time in recognizing Yachi’s potential, he was about to experience a significant jump in competition.

–vs. Daron Cruickshank

“Detroit Superstar” looked like he could be a long-standing UFC fan favorite. Notching six UFC victories, including three knockouts from head kicks, Cruickshank consistently fell to superior grapplers. His flashy striking and solid wrestling made him a formidable opponent, but Daron Cruickshank couldn’t hang with the top 15 and was released.

But RIZIN gave him a new life. In Japan, “Crookushanku” fit right in. He won his very first fight with a brutal soccer kick KO. He next put his grappling to proper use, submitting shootboxing legend Andy Souwer.

A matchup with Yachi guaranteed stand up action. Daron Cruickshank shied away from his kick-heavy style at first in favor of a tight, boxing attack. Aggressive, lunging entries from Yachi were met with accurate counter combinations.

Yachi proved surprisingly adaptable. Picking shots from the outside instead, he frustrated Cruickshank and forced him to move forward, where he fell into old habits.

Luke Rockhold would be proud of those southpaw check hooks.

Charging in with strikes, Cruickshank’s punches were wider, and his defense suffered. Yachi began to find his check right hook almost every time Daron rushed in.

Holding range with a left straight, Yachi’s right hook eventually found space to bash the chin of Daron Cruickshank. When a fighter is running forward into a punch, the impact is going to be increased significantly. This wasn’t just any punch, Yachi threw so hard, his foot left the ground and he ended up looking over his shoulder.

Sorry Daron.

It’s no wonder Cruickshank dropped like a lifeless ragdoll.

Against a difficult, experienced opponent, Yusuke Yachi showed there is some degree of strategy in his violent berserker style.

–vs. Satoru Kitaoka

A true veteran, Satoru Kitaoka is one of the most successful Japanese MMA fighters of all time. He holds submission victories over respected competitors like Carlos ConditPaul DaleyTakanori Gomi, and most recently Daron Cruickshank.

But he’s also a very strange fellow.

“Stop it, put your tongue back in your mouth.”

He is well known for making bizarre faces, but possesses a wide range of quirks. Kitaoka claims to love using social media like Instagram, but does not know how to use a computer. In his defense, you shouldn’t expect someone with over 60 MMA fights to be normal.

Especially not in Japan, land of…this guy:

RIZIN’s other mascot is some type of stuffed animal.

Weirdness aside, Kitaoka can be a nightmare opponent for many. He’ll secure a takedown by any means, and his thick build and hard skull allow him to absorb many strikes with his face.

Just like in his fight with Yamasaki, Yusuke Yachi gave up extended periods of ground control to Kitaoka. On the feet he chose to control his aggression, keeping the sturdy wrestler on the end of power punches rather than wading forward.

Yachi showed a few familiar techniques from the Yamasaki fight. My favorite is limp legging out of a single, spinning to hit a knee strike.

With short time left in the bout, it was unclear if Yachi had done enough to earn a decision. Feeling Kitaoka fading, Yachi unleashed an endless barrage of strikes, desperate to put his leather-chinned opponent away.

A merciful standing TKO, but what the hell is Kitaoka made of?

The referee was not content to watch Kitaoka eat twenty consecutive power shots, and waved off the fight. Just like in his final Pancrase bout, Yachi proved he can rally for victory even after the most grueling battles.

–vs. Takanori Gomi

It is bittersweet to see Gomi in RIZIN. Once the star of PRIDE Bushido, “The Fireball Kid” never really matched that form in the UFC. He became increasingly fragile with age, and could not stand up to the competition any longer. But when Gomi knocked out Melvin Guillard at RIZIN 11 and climbed the ropes once again, it was a nostalgic and joyous moment for fans around the world.

But before that, he was matched up with a surging Yachi in the midst of what would become a six-fight losing streak. Gomi is an inspiration for many Japanese lightweights, and Yachi is no exception. After the fight, they went out drinking together, and Yachi could barely keep up.

Fighters want to treat their heroes with respect in competition. That is a trap. The purest sign of respect is to demand their best and bring the heat. Yusuke Yachi understood this, and came out to take off Gomi’s head. The two collided in a whirlwind of reckless swinging.

And suddenly, Gomi was durable again. Some will say it’s because RIZIN doesn’t drug test, I call it Bushido.

Just when it looked like Gomi was doomed, he unleashed a counter hook that sent Yachi sliding into the ropes. The wily veteran took his opportunity and swarmed, pounding the body of his challenger relentlessly.

But Yachi was able to secure his guard and clear the cobwebs. While Gomi attempted to take time in guard to rest, Yachi began fishing for triangles. As Gomi relaxed his arms, Yachi trapped his wrist and threw up his legs once more, catching a lock.

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Submission defense was never Gomi’s strong suit. Fatigued from their frenetic exchange, his attempts to escape were labored, and he was eventually forced to tap.

LAST FIGHT: Def. Diego Nunes via Split Decision at RIZIN 10

A standout at featherweight in the WEC (RIP), Diego Nunes was once a hot prospect, boasting a 15-1 record after he defeated Mike Brown in his UFC debut. The well-rounded Brazilian never quite got his groove, unable to put together a win streak in the UFC or Bellator thereafter.

It was after picking up three wins in a row for the first time since 2011 that Diego Nunes was chosen to challenge Yusuke Yachi. RIZIN’s emerging star faced forward pressure like he had never seen before in the division.

While Yachi was still able to find his spots on the outside, Nunes brought physicality and aggression that matched his own. Now more than ever it was vital for Yachi to stay within himself and hold solid position, any slip-ups allowed Nunes to blitz him into a corner.

Yachi started to show a new level of craft in this fight. Fighting fluidly breaking in and out of the clinch, changing direction, just great awareness all around.

Of course, it was a Yusuke Yachi fight, there was crazy brawling. But even when Yachi was overexcited and slipped throwing a knee, he had the awareness to time Nunes initiating grappling with stiff upkicks.

Nunes looked a tad unconscious for a second there.

The biggest takeaway in this fight was Yachi’s savvy in the clinch, and a switch to position grappling rather than hunting for submissions. Even when he was surely exhausted, Yachi was composed enough to follow a proper progression to get back to his feet or defend takedowns.

I’m glad Yachi can hit takedowns, but it doesn’t suit him.

If he truly wants to be a sprawl and brawl superstar, these are the skills that will take him there.

NEXT FIGHT: vs. Luiz Gustavo at RIZIN 12

Originally slated to face Nova União‘s Bruno Carvalho, an injury shakeup has brought in Wanderlei Silva‘s latest protege, Luiz “Killer” Gustavo.

At 8-0 with five submissions and three knockouts, the young Brazilian is extremely dangerous. He does well to represent the high-intensity Muay Thai of the old Chute Boxe days, but possesses a comprehensive, modern mixed martial arts game.

While Yusuke Yachi has certainly displayed new skills from fight to fight, his mental growth is the most apparent. When pressure-heavy strikers collide, there is little room for error. Fans will have to trust Yachi to make it his kind of brawl, and put Gustavo’s back on the ropes.

You can watch RIZIN 12 on FITE TV this Sunday. The fights will begin in the middle of the night, but you’ll have access to a permanent replay if you purchase the pay-per-view, which is quite affordable.

War Yachi.

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Ed is a fan of the finer things in combat sports. Low kicks, inside trips and chokes from front headlock are a few of the techniques near and dear to his heart. When interviewing fighters, Ed is most interested in learning their philosophies and the thoughts behind their in-competition processes.

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