The last time Kevin Ross locked horns with Tetsuya Yamato was at Lion Fight 11 in September 2012 at The Fremont Experience in the downtown streets of Las Vegas.
Now referred to as "Nightmare on Fremont Street," due to the fierce and furious five-round battle that ensued, the fight featured exchanges that were equal parts technically beautiful and incredibly violent.
Yamato cut Ross open with several nasty elbows early and put the pressure on, but the American fought valiantly like he normally does, and gave plenty back to the Japanese 2010 K-1 champion. It wasn't enough to convince the judges though, and Ross would lose by split decision.
Fast forward to Lion Fight 21, which takes place later this evening, and the two will meet again in the main event, a much anticipated rematch from their 2012 battle.
Ross, 34, recently spoke to MMAmania.com and was asked about his first encounter and whether or not he thought he had done enough to win on the evening of September 20, 2012.
"I didn't think they would give it to me; I'll say that," said the Lion Fight welterweight champion. "Especially being there. Going back and watching it, yeah, without a doubt I feel I won. I think it's clear and obvious. It looks bad, but looking bad isn't enough to win a fight. I'm outscoring the guy like 10-to-1 almost every single round, but it's whatever."
No fighter ever wants to lose, but Ross doesn't hold any ill feelings towards it. After seeing two combatants collide the way he and Yamato did, one might think that would've been a pretty rough experience, maybe more fun to watch then to actually be in.
"It was definitely fun for me," said Ross. "Those are the best fights. I have no negative feelings for that fight whatsoever. It was great."
There's nothing about that fight that sticks in his craw, per se. Not that he hasn't ever longed for a rematch before, but that only occurs after a fight when he feels he didn't perform well, he said.
"I can always perform better, but I don't really view that one as like I had a bad performance," Ross says. "Yes, I was still working out a lot of kinks from coming back from surgery and stuff like that. It's not something I dwell on, where there have been some past ones where I wasn't myself, or things were off, or whatever the case may be. It doesn't grind on me. I don't dwell on it."
"Da Soul Assassin" said he would've welcomed a rematch with Yamato, even if he had won their first encounter at Lion Fight 11.
"I'm happy to have it," he said. "He's an exciting fighter. I enjoy his style. I enjoy fighting with him. I think we bring out the best in each other."
With any rematch, the question is always: can the second fight outdo the original? Sometimes it's a flop, other times it doesn't matter the number of fights, both fighters just fit together like a glove of mayhem.
"I hope so," replied Ross when posed with the rematch question. "It's always hard to say how it's going to go down. It's hard to top a great performance like that as well. You never know when they are going to happen. Sometimes rematches end up being even better and sometimes they just end up being terrible. We will see. I always hope people are entertained."
In the champion's most recent fight back in December, he traveled to Japan and in a controversial decision at the S-Cup event, his technical knockout victory over Michihiro Omigawa was overturned to a no contest. Ross was disappointed, but he took it in stride. That being said, the Las Vegas-based fighter is happy to be fighting in the U.S. again.
"I've done my time overseas over the years," Ross said. "It's always nice to fight back here, especially when you are still fighting international competition. I still want to fight high-level guys. That is the whole point with going overseas all the time. If you can fight them here, you don't have to sit on a plane for two days, it's nice."
Ross is a member of the "Can't Stop Crazy" team, which includes Bellator/GLORY middleweight Joe Schilling, and Tiffany "Time Bomb" Van Soest, who will also be on the Lion Fight 21 card. The team has done very well over the last year and Ross is very happy that a fellow teammate will be on the same card.
"I'm very happy to see Tiffany on the same card," he said. "It's nice when we are on the same card together. We are definitely a family and even more so when we were in that environment and situation when we are dealing with all the same stuff so it will be nice to have her there.
"We are all always there regardless, but when they are also on the main card it brings you that much closer together because you are feeling the same stuff, going through the same things. You can kind of share that with each other as opposed to just being there for you, they are dealing with it too."
For this camp, his trainers at the Throwdown Training Center brought in Kru Dam, a legendary Muay Thai practitioner from the Sitmonchai Gym in Thailand, where Ross sometimes visits to sharpen his skills.
"Since there was such a long break between these fights, my trainer wanted to keep me from going overseas, because bad things always seem to happen to me over there," Ross laughs. "He ended up setting it up to where he could bring him here and not only does he get to work with me but everyone else at the gym. It's been really great for me and everyone else at the gym."
The seven-year veteran turned in an outstanding performance against Michael Thompson to win the Lion Fight welterweight title at Lion Fight 16. Now he looks to successfully defend his title for the first time at Lion Fight 21 against the man who beat him while he was still a challenger. Though he is the champion, not much has changed for Ross. He has a target on him, like most champions do, because they have what others want, but no one puts a bigger bullseye on him than he does, he explains.
"In some ways I always feel like I got a target on me, but I feel like I give myself more of a target than anyone else could because I put that pressure on myself and it doesn't have anything to do with a title or anything like that," said Ross. "I put more pressure on myself to be better, to perform better every time than anybody else could than any opponent could. It's not anything really different to me. I don't see myself any different than I have five years ago. I want to do better every time. Perform every time and put on better fights every time."