First, it’s because he gets to headline his first Bellator main event against a top-ranked opponent. Second, it’s because he can make a statement in a new weight class by submitting someone from the legendary Gracie clan.
As someone who’s scored nine of his 13 Bellator wins by submission, the possibility of adding such an iconic family name to his resume means everything to Yamauchi.
“It would be very significant for me because they are the main family in martial arts,” he said on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca. “Especially against Neiman Gracie, probably the biggest representative of the Gracie family today. If that happens, it would be incredible.
“Every time I submit [an opponent] in a fight, I think about the Gracie family, especially when there’s no trauma. MMA is a very aggressive sport, but I don’t like to hurt my opponents.
“When I can end a fight without physical damage, cuts, or concussions, I’m happy. I always think about the Gracies when I dominate the enemy without hurting him, because that’s why they developed this martial art.”
Yamauchi, who finished Chris Gonzalez and Levan Chokheli inside one round in his most recent Bellator bouts, wasn’t looking for a match with a fellow Brazilian. But he acknowledged “this is the fight business,” and hopes to earn a welterweight ranking in big way after Friday.
“This is the type of fight I’ve been asking for in the lightweight division,” he said. “People don’t know what happens backstage when I was at lightweight. If you look [at my record], I took fights that were bad for me. If I win, I don’t gain anything, and if I lose, I lose everything. Those type of fights aren’t worth it. But it wasn’t because of the organization — several opponents pulled out. That happens, unfortunately.
“I don’t choose fights. I’m a prizefighter. I’m fighting for my legacy, sure, but this is how I make a living and I have to fight. But in terms of matchups, [they were] horrible. This fight with Neiman represents that, you know? This is the first time we’re in a fight that makes sense for us.”
Gracie has bounced between wins and losses since challenging Rory MacDonald for the welterweight throne in 2019, finishing Jon Fitch and Mark Lemminger but losing decisions to Jason Jackson and Logan Storley.
When they meet inside the cage at Bellator 284, Yamauchi vows to make a statement.
“We don’t know how the fight is going to play out,” he said. “There’s a myth that when two high-level grapplers meet, they fight on the feet, but I think that’s bulls***. We might stay on the ground the entire time to see who’s the better grappler, but we might mix it up. But it doesn’t matter to me. I’ll feel what’s the best strategy for me and I’ll do it.
“Our grappling game is very different. He trains with Renzo [Gracie] and Renzo’s line is more focused on no-gi submission, very old school, and they do that really well. I’m more of a jiu-jitsu guy, that jiu-jitsu from competition, very modern. I follow that Gracie mindset of having to finish, I don’t like chasing points or advantages.”