Japanese MMA star Yoshihiro Akiyama has not had an easy road in the UFC.
Entering the Octagon at middleweight with an impressive 12-1 (2 NC) record, Akiyama made good on his initial promise with a hard-fought victory over Alan Belcher at UFC 100 that earned him Fight of the Night honors and acquainted fans with his always aggressive fighting style.
Unfortunately for "Sexyama", that fight was to prove the high point thus far in his UFC career.
In his next appearance, an exhausted Akiyama saw a certain victory slip away at UFC 116 after dominating an epic slugfest with heavy-handed Chris Leben when he was caught by a triangle choke in the closing seconds of the fight. Despite the loss, Akiyama earned his second Fight of the Night award, and once again showed fans that despite his world-class judo background, his trademark style was emerging as a tough slugger who never stopped going forward.
Following his defeat to Leben, Akiyama dropped consecutive fights to middleweight stars Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort, and made the decision to drop down to welterweight, a weight class that many observers felt was more suited to his natural size.
After losing three in a row at middleweight, Akiyama's welterweight debut had the feel of a must-win fight. But despite a strong showing in his native Japan at UFC 144 against Jake Shields, Akiyama once again came up short, dropping a very close decision to the former Strikeforce middleweight champ .
Most fighters would count themselves lucky to still be fighting in the UFC after a four-fight skid, and most would expect to see an easing in competition after such a losing streak. Unfortunately for Akiyama, "easy" doesn't seem to be part of his UFC vocabulary.
Now according to MMAFighting.com, Akiyama (13-5 2 NC) will face former title challenger Thiago Alves (19-9) at UFC 149 in Calgary this summer. Alves has been circling close to the top of the welterweight division for years, earning victories over the likes of Chris Lytle, Josh Koscheck, Karo Parisyan, and Matt Hughes in the process.
Despite his strong UFC history, Alves has had some troubles of his own lately as well, going 2-4 in his last six fights, and he will be looking to bounce back from a submission loss to Martin Kampmann in his most recent fight. For both men this fight has a feeling of urgency, although for Akiyama it doubtless marks the end of the road in the UFC if he fails to win.
With so much on the line, one thing is certain: fans won't want to miss a match-up that is sure to bring some classic July fireworks.