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From a Buddhist Temple to MMA, James Yang Is Ready to Open at ONE Revolution

The Weekly Takedown: How the 32-year-old's time living with Shaolin monks has prepared him for his professional MMA debut. Plus, Nick Diaz’s return and predictions for UFC 266.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s newest look at MMA. Every week, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

James Yang takes his training with Shaolin monks into ONE bout

James Yang opens the card for Friday’s ONE Revolution event, squaring off against Roel Rosauro in a featherweight bout.

Though he won all six of his amateur fights, Yang has never had an opportunity like the one he is facing against Rosauro in Singapore.

“I have a lot to prove,” says Yang. “And this is my chance to do it.”

Yang’s debut for ONE Championship represents another chance for him to step into the unknown and prove he can thrive, a theme in life with which he is quite familiar.

After graduating high school, the American relocated to China for four years. His first three years there were spent living at a Shaolin martial arts academy mastering the art of kung fu. That is where he pushed himself past countless obstacles and introduced himself to the depths of his soul, he says.

James-Yang-ONE-Revolution-debut

“That whole experience was so beneficial for me physically and mentally,” says Yang. “Developing my mind and spirit was such an asset for me during that trip. I was supposed to go for six months and then come home for college, but I wanted to learn more.”

Now 32, Yang’s path to enlightenment is an ongoing pursuit. Training with Shaolin monks is not a traditional step in a MMA career, but certainly is an experience that toughens the mind and spirit. Enlightenment through meditation has prepared Yang for ONE, affording him a background uniquely different from his opponent.

“It was rural China with barely any heat or hot water,” says Yang. “You knew you had to be tough to survive it. It wasn’t easy, but that time shaped my life.”

After a run performing with Cirque du Soleil, Yang has shifted all of his focus to MMA. His preparation includes intense training with former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who he has studied and sparred with at AMC Pankration in Washington.

“I needed to become a more well-rounded martial artist, especially on the ground,” says Yang. “Demetrious has taught me so much, helping me develop as a martial artist. He keeps making me better.”

A win against Rosauro will ignite a future for Yang in ONE, and he’s fully aware of the opportunity at hand.

“I have so much to prove,” he says. “I have to show why I deserve this opportunity. This is my chance to improve myself and get better. I’ve committed to the fullest of my ability, and I’m looking forward to getting started.”

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Nick Diaz ready for return at UFC 266

Nick Diaz returns to the Octagon this Saturday, his first UFC bout since 2015.

Diaz meets Robbie Lawler in a highly anticipated middleweight fight. At 38, how will Diaz look in the cage? He and his brother Nate are known for their exhaustive, intensive training, so endurance should not be an issue for him, but nearly seven years in between fights is an incredibly long gap.

Lawler has a lot to prove here, too. He lost his last four fights, and a fifth would help cement the end of his run in UFC. In addition to the two title bouts at UFC 266, this should be an incredibly fun fight, which is the case any time we see one of the Diaz brothers in the cage.

Should Diaz defeat Lawler, a matchup against Conor McGregor would make a lot of sense afterward. Nate Diaz and McGregor have a rich history, with each fighter defeating the other. The fight world is anxiously awaiting their rubber match, and it would be exciting to see the older Diaz brother step in and take on McGregor first before completing the trilogy against Nate.


The Pick ‘Em Section

After a perfect weekend last week, here are my picks for UFC 266.

Featherweight title bout: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
Pick: Alexander Volkanovski

Women’s flyweight title bout: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy
Pick: Valentina Shevchenko

Welterweight bout: Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
Pick: Nick Diaz

Heavyweight bout: Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Pick: Curtis Blaydes

Women’s flyweight bout: Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo
Pick: Jéssica Andrade

Last week: 5–0

Current record: 18–14

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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