Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi faces a tough battle against ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee on Friday at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS, but the Japanese martial arts pioneer has had to deal with battles and struggles throughout her life.
In 1988, Yamaguchi’s family moved from Tokyo, Japan, to Los Angeles, USA and wasn’t ready for the culture shock that would hit her upon her arrival.
“The only words I knew were ‘thank you.’ I could not speak English at all,” she says.
“Japan is a safe country. Everyone is pretty nice, but I do not think that is always good when you go to a foreign country, because you do not know how to protect yourself.
“When I was in first grade, someone stole my snack, and that never happens in Japan. I was shocked. Like, ‘Oh my God, someone stole my snack.’
“I learned that I needed to take care of my stuff, and I needed to protect myself in the United States. It was not that bad, but it was still shocking.”
Yamaguchi took up self-defence classes when she was seven years old. Inspired by her hero Jackie Chan, she persuaded her father to take her to a karate dojo so she could learn the art.
“I really thank my father for taking me to a karate academy,” she says.
“Since then, I have met so many teachers and elders, and they taught me to grow up the right way.”
Tragically, Yamaguchi’s mother passed away soon after. The family was forced to move back to Japan once she finished elementary school.
“When I lived in California, my mother died, and that is why my family came back to Japan. That was the hardest part of my life,” she says.
“I do not really talk about these things, because I want people to see me as a fighter, not a poor child who lost a mother. But going through these things, I got tougher.”
Yamaguchi’s love and passion for martial arts meant she had an outlet to channel her energy. She trained tirelessly in karate, and later diversified into kickboxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts.
It wasn’t long before she developed the desire to test her skills in a competitive environment. She turned professional and achieved great success.
So far in her career, Yamaguchi has won the DEEP Jewels Featherweight Championship, Valkyrie Featherweight Championship, a Pan-American BJJ Gold Medal, the Asian Open BJJ Title and the Japan National BJJ Title.
However, one prize has so far eluded her in her impressive career – the ONE Atomweight World Title.
She competed for the belt in its inaugural bout in May 2016, but lost out to Lee, whose reign at the top of the division continues to this day.
Two years after their first meeting, Yamaguchi and Lee are set to face off again at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS, with the title on the line once more.
With a burning desire to push herself to success and become a role model for others in her nation and beyond, Yamaguchi has decided to open up more and share some of the aspects of her past that she previously kept under wraps.
“I feel like maybe I should talk about these things because a lot of people who live in different cultures or are of a different race are watching,” she says.
“I want them to be inspired by watching my fights and knowing my background.”