SINGAPORE – These past few weeks have been quite emotional roller coaster ride for Japanese martial arts veteran Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi as she was originally slated to challenge Angela “Unstoppable” Lee for the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship title in the main event of ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT in Singapore on 24 November.
However, Lee was involved in a car accident nearly two weeks ago, and the injuries that she sustained in the unfortunate incident forced her to regretfully withdraw from the highly-anticipated championship clash.
Lee’s sudden pullout from her world title defense left Yamaguchi without an opponent at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, but the latter was advised by the top brass of the organization to continue her training.
“I was told that Angela was in a car accident. I was surprised, but was so glad that she was okay. Then, I tried to keep concentrating on my training because I believe that ONE Championship was looking for another opponent,” Yamaguchi revealed.
ONE Championship found a suitable replacement a few days later as Filipino standout Gina “Conviction” Iniong accepted the offer to fill in for Lee to square off with Yamaguchi at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, which takes place at the state-of-the-art Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Although Yamaguchi is not getting the world title rematch that she anticipated against Lee, she is still getting the chance to settle an old score as the seasoned Japanese combatant once crossed paths with Iniong.
The aforementioned atomweight collision is a rematch from their first encounter three and a half years ago under a regional show in the Philippines, where Iniong pulled away with a razor-thin split decision victory over Yamaguchi.
For Yamaguchi, the situation could not have worked out any better as she plans to avenge her setback to the hard-hitting Filipino.
“I was glad that Gina answered ‘yes’ to the match on the Singapore card with me,” she said. “I have always looked for a chance for revenge. T is the perfect moment.”
Both ladies engaged in a thrilling war,as the aggressive Iniong demonstrated her crisp striking and scrambling ability to defend takedown and submission attempts.
Meanwhile, Yamaguchi threatened early with a tight armbar, and consistently leaned on her grappling and clinch knees against the cage fence.
Even though the judges rendered a split decision in favor of Iniong, Yamaguchi and her team felt the decision should have gone the other way.
“My image of the last match was Gina getting some points with her boxing, and me with my ground game,” she stated “It was back and forth, but all of my team thought I won.”
Since their grueling three-round atomweight contest, Yamaguchi and Iniong have never seen eye-to-eye. Moreover, a lot of things have changed in their respective professional careers.
Yamaguchi captured the DEEP Jewels featherweight trinket in May 2015 before unsuccessfully challenging Lee for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship in her promotional debut back in May 2016.
Following her unsuccessful bid to become ONE Championship’s first-ever atomweight queen, she dropped a razor-thin split decision to Istela Nunes three months later before redeeming herself by submitting fellow former world title challenger Jenny “Lady GoGo” Huang this past June.
On the other hand, Iniong directed her career path to ONE Championship in 2017 and has looked absolutely dominant ever since she debuted on the global stage.
The 28-year-old Team Lakay product battered Natalie Gonzales Hill en route to a unanimous decision t past April.
In front of a hometown crowd last 10 November at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD, Iniong extended her winning streak inside the ONE Championship cage to two matches with an outstanding second-round finish of Indonesia’s Priscilla Hertati Lumbangaol.
Yamaguchi admitted that she was able to watched Iniong recent outing very carefully and acknowledges her growth as a martial artist, but the Japanese sensation also believes that she has vastly improved as well since their last meeting.
“Gina has a really good right hand she throws, and she is strong and physical. I am better with the ground game and improved more in my boxing skills compared to our previous match,” she observed.
“She competed against a good kickboxer recently, was controlling her opponent well on the ground, and was really aggressive. She looked like she won without taking much damage,” Yamaguchi added.
As Iniong poses to be a potential threat to take her place as the atomweight title contender, Yamaguchi is confident that she will keep her status as next in line for Lee’s gold-plated strap.
“My story will not end here,” a determined Yamaguchi quipped.
Yamaguchi is planning to make the most of her second chance against Iniong as her objective is to leave the Singapore Indoor Stadium with her hand raised in triumph and leave the decision out of the judges’ hands.
“It is going to end early. It will be a clear finish by me. It is going to be a knockout,” she guaranteed.