By Nolan King
There is something different to be found when watching touted prospects compete inside the chaos of a mixed martial arts cage. There are some who are simply meant for larger achievements, and their performances reflect that motivation. Meanwhile, others who possess developed traits struggle against more experienced competition.
The ones who pass the test move on to face tougher obstacles, and those who struggle discover there is much more work to be done. Let's take a look at some top-ranked prospects who stepped into the cage last weekend.
Flyweight / 9-1 Professional / 22 years old/ Kagoshima, Japan
Despite the emergence of a Korean star in Doo Ho Choi, and a resurgence of another Korean star in Chan Sung Jung, Asian MMA as a whole is still in a bit of a drought when it comes to star production.
Specifically, when quantifying the rate of fighters coming into the world's largest mixed martial arts promotion, it becomes apparent that the former home of PRIDE is lacking new talent. Japan is one of the first countries that comes to mind when thinking of the roots of martial arts, yet in the UFC today there are only a dozen fighters from the "Land of the Rising Sun".
Pancrase has been a key promotional player in producing top Japanese fighters that have made it to big promotions. This past Sunday, they held their 290th event. As usual, the card featured top prospects from all over Asia. One of those prospects was 22-year-old Yuya Wakamatsu, also known as the "Little Piranha."
Replacing UFC veteran Tateki Matsuda as a late notice injury replacement, Wakamatsu took on fellow prospect and countryman Shohei Masumizu (7-3) as part of the night's main card.
Despite being controlled against the cage for much of the first round, Wakamatsu never really encountered any serious trouble. For the minority of the first round, the two were separated. During these brief moments, Wakamatsu stalked down Masumizu, who seemed a bit timid on the feet.
The second round was a bit more of a striking match, with Wakamatsu fully displaying his size, speed and strength advantages. After chasing Masumizu around the cage for the majority of the round, Wakamatsu was finally able to catch his prey. A brutal one-two combo staggered Masumizu before a mirror image of that same combo sat him down. A flurry of shots gave the referee no choice but wave off the bout in the second round.
FloCombat Grade: B
BREAKDOWN: Skills aside, if you were to try and craft a physical template for a flyweight fighter, it would be Yuya Wakamatsu. The 22-year-old is chiseled, but the muscle doesn't hurt his cardio in the least bit. He is a true athlete with great footwork, speed, and above-average power in his hands.
His stance is a bit odd for his opponents, standing off the center line on his back foot, as if he is looking for a spinning attack at all times. However, Wakamatsu rarely throws flash, but instead chooses to go with substance. His hands are heavy, but he should focus on throwing more combinations. He seems to only throw one strike at a time, instead of putting together two or three punch combos.
Another area in which "the Little Piranha" could improve is his head movement. He does an excellent job with his footwork, but if you watch his trunk and head, it very seldom moves off of the same plane. If he does not make the proper adjustments and has to face off against a strong, technical striker, the Japanese flyweight could find himself in trouble.
At this point in time, Wakamatsu isn't ready for the big show. He needs to make his game more well-rounded, and sharpen the tools that have allowed him to achieve success thus far. However, the foundation is there. Down the line it will be shocking if this athletic, hard-nosed prospect doesn't appear in the UFC, Bellator, or maybe even in his backyard of Japan for RIZIN.