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Two decades later, Goiti Yamauchi returns to Japan as a ‘gaijin’ for Bellator 237

Born in Japan and raised in Brazil, Goiti Yamauchi finally returns to his home country on Saturday, 22 years after he left Japan at four years of age.

Yamauchi is set to fight at Saturday’s Bellator 237. And yet, the talented lightweight doesn’t expect a warm welcome at the Saitama Super Arena. Although he doesn’t think he’ll hear boos, he doesn’t expect the Japanese crowd to see his fight with Daron Cruickshank as an “us against them” battle.

According to the Anjo-native jiu-jitsu specialist, he will be seen as just another foreigner.

“They will consider me Japanese on the entertainment side because I look Asian, but my family and I are treated as Japanese in Brazil and Brazilians in Japan,” Yamauchi told MMA Fighting. “It’s hard for us. We may look Japanese, but we’re not seen that way in Japan because we have mixed traces, so we’re called ‘gaijin’ – foreigners. It’s hard, but it’s okay. I feel Japanese, I feel Brazilian. My heart has both, and I love both countries.”

Yamauchi feels he has two places to call home, even though fans might not see him that way.

“That’s exactly how I feel,” Yamauchi said. “I’ve never talked about it before. I don’t represent a specific flag, I represent the world. I represent fans that follow my work. I’ll always focus on Brazil and Japan, and also the U.S., a place I learned to love. But everything I do is to become famous in a global scale, not only my country.”

Making his debut on Japanese soil will still feel special, though. His uncle will be in his corner, and he’ll have many other family members in attendance Saturday. His mother couldn’t fly to Saitama, but he said she cared about his upcoming fight for the first time.

“Every fight is important for me, but this one is special because it’s there,” Yamauchi said. “When I started fighting, my goal was to fight in Japan. It was our dream. My family doesn’t understand about fighting, my mom and my aunts, and they were very emotive.”

Bellator 237 will be a special event because it features a handful of Bellator fighters taking on representatives of RIZIN in Japan. Yamauchi wanted to be on the card, but didn’t expect to be selected by the company to fight on Dec. 28. His clash with Cruickshank is one of those classic striker vs. grappler showdowns, and Yamauchi predicts a “cool finish.”

The Bellator fighter expects an exciting bout, but doesn’t know if it helps him make his case for a shot at the 155-pound title in the United States.

“This fight is not very important for the division in Bellator, but it’s going to be exciting,” Yamauchi said. “I’m not underestimating him, he’s not a bad fighter, but he doesn’t fight for Bellator, and he’s not a top-five (fighter) there. I don’t see this fight helping me climb the rankings there.

“Truth is, the only two fighters that can get me up in the ranking now are Ben Henderson and Michael Chandler. Other then that, I’m not going up. I was really happy with my last two fights, Daniel Weichel and Saad Awad, and that really helped me move up the list, but it’s different with Daron. It’s more of an entertainment fight for the Japanese people, it’s RIZIN vs. Bellator. It’s pure entertainment, and I love it.”

Cruickshank joined RIZIN in 2016 after a four-year run in the UFC and scored seven stoppage wins inside the Japanese ring. Seven of his 12 MMA losses came by way of submission, though, and that’s how Yamauchi expects to get it done Saturday.

“I’m always watching MMA and I think I’m one of the most unpredictable names in the sport,” Yamauchi said. “It’s always hard for me to say how I’m going to win because I’m very creative. You can expect a well-trained and creative guy. I’ll do something spectacular for the Japanese people.”