Yoshihiro Akiyama will make the drop to 170 pounds for a Feb. 26 bout. | Photo: Taro Irei

After three consecutive defeats at middleweight, Japanese star Yoshihiro Akiyama will make a long-awaited move down the scale in February, and he’ll do so before a hometown crowd.

UFC officials announced Monday that Akiyama and welterweight contender Jake Shields have verbally agreed to square off in a 170-pound bout at UFC 144. While not formally announced by the promotion, the event is expected to take place Feb. 26 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, and will likely feature a lightweight title bout between champion Frankie Edgar and former WEC titleholder Ben Henderson.

Akiyama, 36, has fallen on hard times since entering the UFC in July 2009 on a 13-fight unbeaten streak.

Since winning his Octagon debut by narrowly outpointing Alan Belcher, “Sexyama” has been submitted by Chris Leben, decisioned by Michael Bisping and, most recently, served a brutal knockout from Vitor Belfort in August. The skid marks the first losing streak of the decorated judoka’s MMA career, his only other defeat coming in 2005 against K-1 legend Jerome Le Banner.

Shields also enters the bout on his first losing streak, having dropped back-to-back bouts in 2011.

The 32-year-old Cesar Gracie pupil won 15 straight bouts between 2005 and 2010, including a split-decision win over Martin Kampmann in Shields’ October 2010 UFC debut. After losing a lopsided, five-round bid to dethrone Georges St. Pierre in April, Shields was knocked out for only the second time in September by heavy-handed contender Jake Ellenberger.

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