Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ayaka Hamasaki Profile

Photo from
Name: Ayaka Hamasaki (浜崎 朱加)
Birthday: March 31, 1982
Birthplace: Yamaguchi-Ken, Japan
Height: 5"1 (158cm)
Weight: 105lb (47.6kg), 115 (52kg)
Record: 14-2
Notable Wins: Herica Tiburcio, Yuka Tsuji, Mizuki Inoue, Ham Seo Hee, Amber Brown, Jinh Yu Frey

Ayaka Hamasaki, is the Invicta FC 105lb Champion, has defended her title twice, is the first Japanese fighter to win an American MMA title, and has been named the atomweight of the year three years in a row. In other words, she is a very impressive fighter. However impressive she is, not a lot is known about this fighter, at least outside of Japan. I first saw her compete in a grappling match against Saori Ishioka in 2011 and have followed her career since. Over that time, I have had the opportunity to interview her several times. The information in this article comes from those interviews, other interviews, people that known Ayaka, and Ayaka herself.

The Pre-MMA Years

Ayaka Hamasaki was mischievous growing up, sometimes skipping school. This annoyed her teachers, who wanted her to join the Judo club, where some of her friends were. Ayaka lived in a dorm near her high school, with roughly 30-40 other kids. In addition, the school had an athletic focus, requiring all of the students to join a sports club. So with little choice in the matter, Ayaka joined the Judo club. In her own words, Judo was heart breaking. Practices were hard, intense and constant. During the school year, Ayaka trained in the morning, went to classes and trained again in the evening. During the summer time, she trained 2 to 3 times a day. During winter break, she trained. Judo was a constant in her life.

After high school, Ayaka continued with Judo through college, where she placed second in the All Japan Junior Judo Championship, losing to a future world champion. Ayaka would not reach any higher though, as she was sidelined with an injury. She continued with Judo even after graduating, however after a year and a half she quit. Having competed in Judo from high school till she was 23, Judo was not something that Ayaka necessarily enjoyed. Judo sometimes made her angry. However, she recognizes that Judo transformed her life and for that she is very grateful.

Post Judo

Rina Tomita liked MMA and was a fan of Miku Matsumoto. Miku was making waves in Japan, competing for and eventually headlining Deep events. At one of those events, Rina asked Miku where she could train, what gym did Miku recommend. As she lived and trained far away from Tokyo, Miku told Rina to go train with Megumi Fujii at AACC. Three months into training at AACC, Rina wanted to get physically stronger. So she met with a personal trainer named Ayaka Hamasaki. As they talked, Ayaka learned that Rina was training at AACC. While Ayaka knew about MMA, this is the first time she heard about women competing. As a result of their meeting, Ayaka went with Rina to AACC. Once there she met Megumi. Ayaka didn't know about Megumi, but was immediately impressed by her physique.

Ayaka, Rina, Megumi
Ayaka didn't want to become a professional fighter. She wanted to exercise and work-off some stress. Even though she was lifting weights through her job as a personal trainer, Ayaka missed the workouts from her Judo days, where she got to use and move her whole body.

When she first started training, Ayaka made an impression on those at the gym. Megumi and Abe-sensei didn't think that Ayaka would go pro, but there was a consensus that she showed promise. While she lacked many of the skills a fighter needs, her background in Judo and her explosive power would provide an excellent foundation. In the beginning, her lack of technique was apparent. It looked like she hated striking, shadowboxing especially, and when Ayaka rolled with Rina, Rina would beat her.

Megumi remembers rolling with Ayaka, both with the gi and then without the gi. Ayaka's movements and responses to her movements impressed her. Knowing about her background, Megumi thought that this kid has got what it takes to make it.

After training for a bout a month, Rina couldn't beat her anymore.

The Grappling Matches

After training for about 3 months, Ayaka started to think about competing in some grappling matches. In addition to her Judo background, she had been going to grappling practice at AACC. Eventually, someone asked her if she'd like to compete and she started competing in 2008.

At 29, Ayaka competed in her 5th grappling match, this time against the young up-and-coming pro-wrestler, Hikaru Shida. Hikaru is a successful pro-wrestler now, but at the time her bjj coach thought that she had the best grappling of any pro-wrestler he had trained. In his mind, she was capable of doing both pro-wrestling and real fights. Going into the fight, he had seen Ayaka compete in person, at a blue belt bjj tournament, where Ayaka lost. In his opinion, she was a good grappler but lacked basic bjj techniques, like how to break an opponent's guard. While it is true that Ayaka was still developing, it took her only 48 seconds to submit Hikaru.

Ayaka defeated Hikaru in 48 seconds

Amateur MMA

While Ayaka was coming to AACC, she was only coming to the grappling practices. However, after some time, she was invited to come to the striking classes. Even though she didn't know how to do anything, she really enjoyed it. Around the same time, Ayaka went to an MMA event for the first time and saw Megumi fight. Even though she had just started striking, after seeing Megumi fight, she wanted to give it a try. This is how a year and a half after walking into AACC, Ayaka made her amateur debut.

She made her debut in 2009, fighting twice in one night for Jewels. She finished the first fight via submission and the second fight went to a draw. Three months later she won another amateur fight. Two months later she won two more amateur fights in the same night. All-in-all she went 4-0-1 as an amateur, with 3 submissions.

The Pro-Debut

Ayaka's last two amateur fights occurred in one night. It was a Shooto event hosted by Yoichi Suzuki, the head of Alive Gym. He was obviously impressed by what he saw, as shortly after the event, Ayaka received an offer for a professional fight. Even though she never had a goal of fighting professionally, when the offer came, she talked to Megumi about it. They quickly decided to accept the offer. It was just a step up from what Ayaka was already doing.

Ayaka made her pro-debut against Konkua Sasaki in 2009. Kinuka was a veteran of Smackgirl and had amassed a record of 3-7, a common Japanese phenomenon at the time, before the fight. Ayaka didn't know anything about her opponent. Despite her record, Kinkuka did not go down easily, actually dropping Ayaka in the opening round. But Ayaka kept coming forward and submitted her in the 2nd round. 2009 had been a big year for Ayaka, fighting 5 times as an amateur and making her pro-debut.

The Jewels Years

Shooto was not the only organization that saw potential in Ayaka. Yuichi Ozono, the head of Jewels, noticed her as well. She had fought for Jewels several time as an amateur. When he saw her fight, he saw how good she moved. Megumi had been known as the "Queen of the Quick Kill", and he saw the similar quality in Ayaka. He knew that she could compete on the world stage.

This is how she was brought into the Jewels tournament to decide the first 52kg champion. In the first round of the tournament, Ayaka quickly won her match by submission in 48 seconds. In other matches, Mika Nagano defeated Celine Haga, Ham Seo Hee won her match, and Sakura Nomura won her match. The 2nd round and final match would be fought on the same day. In the 2nd round, Ayaka defeated Sakura, and Ham defeated Nagano. 5 matches later, Ayaka defeated Ham be decision to become the inaugural Jewels 52kg Champion. She had been fighting professionally for a little more than a year.

Afterwards, Ayaka fought Mizuki Inoue, who had also won a tournament. Ayaka dominated the match with her grappling, repeatedly taking Mizuki down then going for numerous submission attempts. This set up a Ham rematch, since Ham had beaten Saori Ishioka and V.V. Mei sine their last fight. In what was a highly anticipated rematch, Ham got injured in the first round. At the end of the round, she was not able to stand and it was obvious the fight was over.

After dominating the young talent in Mizuki, with whom she was very impressed, and having a disappointing result in the match with Ham, Ayaka fought what she considers to be the most important match of her Jewels career. In her next match, she fought Yuka Tsuji. If you are unfamiliar, Tsuji is a legend on the Japanese MMA scene. Arguably the biggest star during Smackgirl, Tsuji defeated a who's who of talent, amassing a record of 23-2, with 16 submissions and 2 ko's, before the fight with Ayaka. In addition to her fighting skill, Tsuji was a widely recognized figurehead of women in MMA in Japan. Tsuji had headlined the Inoki Bom-Bay-Ye 2003 event in front of over 43,000 people and on Japanese TV. Equally impressive, is that she headlined the event over names like Alistair Overeem, Fedor, Josh Barnett, Semmy Schilt, Alexander Emelianenko, Lyoto Machida and Rich Franklin. Even more, Ayaka was going to fight Tsuji in her hometown of Osaka. She trained very hard for this fight, thinking only about winning.

The support for Tsuji was incredible, but it didn't phase Ayaka. In her mind, she's never the hometown favorite, so it didn't bother her.

Ayaka destroyed Tsuji. She submitted her with a double-wrist lock in the first round. Afterwards, a teary eyed Ayaka hugged her mentor Megumi. When asked about it, she remembers that she had never fought a fighter that was on the level of Tsuji before and that even though she didn't think it would affect her, she was so happy that she couldn't help but cry when she won. While Tsuji may have been the hometown favorite, people climbed into the ring to be with Ayaka. Her seniors and juniors from college had traveled from all over Japan to see the fight. Afterwards, they all took a picture together in the ring. Gong magazine later dubbed the double-wrist lock that she won with, the "Hama-Lock". A play on one of the submission's names and her name. The name closely resembled Megumi's "Megu-Lock". In many ways, Ayaka's defeat of Tsuji announced the arrival of a new generation.

The "Hama-Lock"
Invicta FC

Two months after the biggest win of her career, Ayaka got the chance to do something she never thought she would, fight abroad. The promotion was Invicta and it was their second event. Ayaka was looking forward to testing herself abroad. Some fighters might have been nervous, but Ayaka wasn't. In what is a common characteristic in all of her fights, Ayaka took the fight for what it was, excited, not nervous. An opportunity to challenge herself. And this fight did present a lot of challenges. Ayaka had never fought under the unified rules before, never fought in a cage before, and still did not consider herself a world level fighter.

In the fight, Ayaka fought Lacey Schuckman. Thinking back on the fight, Lacey's physical strength sticks out the most to her. At the time, Ayaka, like Megumi, didn't cut weight. Instead she walked around at roughly 52kg (115). Nevertheless, Ayaka was able to take Lacey down numerous times throughout the fight and in the end, won via a hard fought submission. She had been in positions where she could have thrown elbows, but she was still getting used to the new rules, elbows still felt unnatural. Even though she won, Ayaka left the match feeling like she still had a lot to learn.

After defeating Emi Fujino in Japan, Ayaka's next fight in Invicta was supposed to be against Carla Esparza for the Invicta 115 title, but Carla had to withdraw because of an injury. As a result, Ayaka was slated to face Claudia Gadelha. This fight would be an important moment in Ayaka's career. She was looking forward to fighting a larger opponent, as she thought it would be a good test for future fights against larger non-Japanese fighters. A week before the fight it was in jeopardy. A week before the fight, Ayaka was informed that she would not be allowed to tape her knees. Ayaka needed to tape her knees but didn't feel like she could pull out for that reason. She had trained really hard, but she knew the tape would be a problem. Ayaka lost the fight via TKO in the 3rd round. Thinking back on the fight, Ayaka remembers how strong Claudia was, she couldn't do anything.

Surgery and Return to Japan

A month after her fight with Claudia, Ayaka had surgery to fix her knees. She didn't want to tape her legs anymore. The surgery would put her out of commission for a little more than a year, making the future uncertain. A lot of changes had occurred during her rehabilitation. Megumi Fujii had retired and moved to the other side of the country, Hitomi Akano and Rina Tomita had also retired. When Megumi left, other women also stopped coming to the gym, 9 in total. Ayaka felt lonely in the gym, being one of the only women left. Outside of the gym changes, Jewels had been absorbed into Deep becoming Deep Jewels, leaving Ayaka's future in Japan uncertain. She also didn't know what division she wanted to fight in. She had never tried to make 105 before, but it was an option. When I spoke to her during her rehabilitation, she didn't know who she wanted to fight for or at what weight, but she wanted to fight in Japan.

Even though she said that she wanted her next fight to be in Japan, she was originally slated to make her return fight on the Invicta FC 9 card, against Herica Tiburcio, but visa issues led to Herica not being able to compete, so the match was scrapped. Her return would be for Deep Jewels, against fellow Invicta and Jewels veteran Sugirock. Interestingly, Ayaka was uncharacteristically nervous, as she was coming off of the surgery, she would not be taping her knees, and she was dropping down to 48kg(105), something she had never done before.

Even though she hadn't fought for a year, Ayaka looked very good in her atomweight debut, dropping Sugirock with strikes and tko'ing her in the first round. While Ayaka had looked good at 115, she seemed to have more power at 105.

Ayaka drops Sugirock with punches
Photo courtesy of Lady Go!
Next, she fought again in Japan, this time against V.V. Mei. V.V. Mei had also been testing herself abroad and had previously fought in an action packed war against Megumi. This fight was part of a Deep New Year's Eve event at Saitama Super Arena. The event had severally highly promoted womens' fights on the card, showing that like in the U.S., things were changing in Japan. Women were becoming more and more part of mainstream MMA and Ayaka was in the top women's fight on the card. She won a fairly dominant decision and in doing so, was named the 2014 Atomweight of the Year.

The Championship

While Ayaka was looking very strong at 105 in Japan, she wanted to fight in America, she wanted to make another run for the Invicta title, this time at 105. Ayaka had been previously slated to fight Herica Tibrucio, but the fight didn't come to fruition. In the meantime, Herica had become the Invicta FC 105 champion. The fight was rescheduled, this time for the title. Because it was for the title, the fight felt special to Ayaka and as a result, she felt a little nervous before the fight, but she was excited.

In what she describes as a troubling trend in her Invicta title fights, Ayaka had a rough first round against Herica. Herica hit her with a hard body shot and seemed to have a deep choke locked in when the round ended. In the following rounds, Ayaka repeatedly took Herica down, who while active on the bottom, was resigned to acting defensively. In the end, Ayaka won a 2-1 split decision to become the champion. To be honest, she was surprised. She thought she had done enough to win a clear decision. She doesn't speak English so didn't know what was going on and was worried when she heard that it was a split decision.

Courtesy of All Elbows
Even though though she was the champ, it didn't set in immediately. It didn't really set in till afterwards, when she was eating with her friends. People had traveled from all over to watch Ayaka fight for the title. The head of Inspirit, a long time sponsor of hers, Shooto Legend Rumina Sato, and friends from around America came to watch the fight and to celebrate afterwards. In winning the title, Ayaka had become the first Japanese fighter to win an American title and it was a big deal. Japanese fighters like Tatsuya Kawajiri were congratulating her on Twitter, she graced the cover of magazines, and an event was planned to celebrate her victory.

An advertisement for the event. Amongst those who showed up were:
Kenji Osawa, Funaki, the Pancrase CEO, the Deep head, and the former Jewels head.
Ayaka was once again named the atomweight of the year, in 2015.

Ayaka wouldn't fight again for almost another year, this time against Amber Brown. Amber came to a lot of people's attention when she fought Emi Fujino and Kikuya Ishikawa in Japan. Afterwards, she had been signed to Invicta, where she won three fights in a row to earn this title fight. A physical fighter known for her endurance, Amber looked to be a solid challenge for Ayaka. The fight was an amazing fight. The fight went back and forth, but Ayaka was able to get Amber to reluctantly submit near the end of the third. Prior to the submission, Ayaka had transitioned from numerous arm locks as the two rolled around. In her corner, was a new face, Rena. While not especially popular outside of Japan, Rena is a big star in Japan. A multiple time Shoot Boxing champion, Rena made the transition to MMA and is now one of the faces of Rizin in Japan. It is a perfect match, training wise as Ayaka has a grappling background and Rena is a world-class striker. Hamasaki is usually in Rena's corner now when she fights. As mentioned above, there was a time period when a lot of the women left AACC, but now new talent was starting to come. Some of their attraction to the gym, has to be attributed to Ayaka.

Ayaka began gracing more and more Japanese magazines on a regular basis.
Ayaka didn't wait long to step back in the cage again, this time against Jihn Yu Frey, who had defeated Herica Tiburcio in her last fight. Frey's power had been on display in the fight, where she dropped Herica with a punch near the end of a round. Frey's power was evident in the first round of the fight with Ayaka. As Ayaka jokes, she's had some bad first rounds in her title defenses, but Ayaka started to fight her way back. Unfortunately the fight was marred with controversy. Ayaka connected with a very solid punch that cut Frey above the eye. To some, the punch appeared to have badly phased Frey, but we will never know. The ref stopped the fight due to the cut, leaving a sour taste in everyone's mouth, the fans, the corners, the media, Ayaka, and Frey.

Before the Amber fight, Rena had started training with Ayaka. After the Frey fight, Emi Fujino and Ayaka Miura started coming to train with Ayaka. People wanted to train with the champion. Increasing opportunities for women, opened up training partners for these women. A couple years before, these women couldn't train together because it was very likely they would have to fight each other. Not anymore. Ayaka fights for Invicta, Rena fights for Rizin, Emi fights for Road FC, Miura fights for Pancrase, and V.V. Mei fights for One Championship, meaning that all of these former rivals can now train together. Iron sharpens iron, and by these top women now being able to train together, their own skills will only rise.

Ayaka was once again the atomweight of the year, in 2016.

The UFC Dream

In her last fight, Ayaka once again tried to make a run at 115 in Invicta, this time against the former champ Souza. When asked why, the answer is simple, she wants to fight in the UFC. For her, as a mma fighter, UFC is the dream. One must imagine that it is somewhat frustrating for her to see past opponents and past Invicta 105ers get shots in the UFC, but for her, the call has yet to come. She may have lost, but do not count Ayaka out. She came back better than ever after her first defeat and one should expect her to come back even better after this loss. Once she is healed up, we should expect to see the easy going, motorcycle riding, cat loving, nerves of steel Ayaka back to her winning ways.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Weekend WMMA Wrap-Up

Road FC: 37 XX and ONE: Warrior Kingdom

There were a lot of female fights in Asia this weekend, thanks to Road FC, ONE, and Pancrase. 

If you live outside of Korea, Road FC streamed the entire event live on Youtube. The event took place on Saturday morning in the U.S. and it served as a nice showcase for the promotion. Road FC has accomplished what ONE has also accomplished. Both promotions have searched for and discovered young fighters with potential. Jung Eun Park, Ye Ji Lee, and Yuri Shim all picked up wins and looked impressive in the process. Both Park and Lee look to be developing and evolving despite rocky starts to their careers, which might have been cases of too much too soon. Park looked impressive but it was Lee who stood out. At just 17 years of age she avenged her loss to Satoko Shinashi. She used her size and tenacity to keep Satoko on the defensive for most of the fight but in the last round she seemed to tire. Even though she was tired she survived several submission attempts and could be a star for Road in the future. Road FC has also brought in some veterans. Emi Fujino picked up another win and looks to be enjoying her time with the promotion. In other news, it appears that Ham Seo Hee will be fighting for a championship later this year.

Ye-Ji Lee
- Raiko Emiko def. Jin Hee Kang (UD)
- Ye-Ji Lee def. Satoko Shinashi (UD)
- Jung Eun Park def. Na Young Park (TKO)
- So Hee Lim def. Hana Date (UD)
- Yuri Shim def. Shiho Harada (UD)
- Xiangje Wang def. Yoon Ha Hong

Angela Lee successfully defended her title for the first time in Thailand. Angela won the championship last year in one of the best fights of the year and looks to be one of ONE's top stars. Angela finished the previously undefeated Jenny Huang in the third round when Jenny verbally submitted after eating a stream of hard shots on the ground. If you didn't see the fight think of Khabib and Michael Johnson. I have been critical of the new system that ONE has utilized for deciding their weight divisions. When they restructured their weight divisions they essentially erases the actual 105 division, of which they had a number of fighters. This has forced a number of natural 105ers into their new Atomweight division where one can weigh in at 115. The size difference has been noticable. Angela towered over Jenny and Mei, both of whom are natural 105ers. Angela has looked very impressive up to this point in her career, so I would like to see ONE either create a new division for the old 105ers or bring in more natural 115ers as they develop the division. Outside of that, Angela is a star and seems to always have exciting fights.

Angela Lee
- Angela Lee def. Jenny Huang (Submission to strikes, 3R)
- Rika Ishige def. Audreylaura Boniface (TKO, 1R)

Ayaka Miura picked up a UD win in her Pancrase debut, but it was an unimpressive performance. Her coach, Ryo Chonan also seemed critical of her performance. The match consisted of Ayaka repeatedly throwing and landing head-and-arm throws. Once she landed the throw, she would spend the remainder of the round in the scarf hold position hammer fisting her opponents face. It wasn't until the third that she attempted an arm-triangle choke and also an arm-lock but it was too little to late and the match probably didn't have the affect that she was hoping for. It seems that she has been brought into Pancrase as a potential opponent for Syuri Kondo, to fight for a 115 title, but if she continues to underwhelm, Pancrase might find someone else.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Angela Lee Interview

ONE Champ Angela Lee
Courtesy of mmamania

Angela Lee will be defending her ONE Atomweight championship this weekend against the undefeated Jenny Huang. Angela burst onto the scene in 2015, is undefeated, and has finished 5 of her 6 opponents. At just 20 years of age, a star has emerged in ONE's atomweight division. Angela won the first women's championship for the organization, was the first woman to headline an event for them, and will be headlining again this weekend. I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela and you can read our interview below. Be sure to watch her fight Jenny Huang this Saturday on the ONE website for $9.99


CJ: Can you start by talking about your last fight? Having had time to watch it what stands out to you? How badly did the punch effect you in the opening of the third?
AL: My last fight was with Mei Yamaguchi on May 6th of this year and it was for the inaugural One Women's Atomweight title. We both fought very hard and it was a very technical and entertaining fight for fans around the world. I came into the third round flat on my feet and she came in with that punch right off of the bell. It definitely caught me off guard, but I was able to stay calm, defend myself, and then attack with numerous submissions.

Angela Lee
Courtesy of MMAfighting
CJ: You train at two locations. I read that for your last camp you spent 5 weeks at Evolve and 3 weeks at United. Can you talk about your training and what each gym offers you? Will you stick to this formula for future fights?
AL: I have been training all my life with United MMA. United MMA is my family's gym and we're based out of Oahu, Hawaii. My Dad is my Head Coach and has decades of coaching knowledge and experience, that he is constantly tweaking and improving. At United MMA, I can focus primarily on MMA. From the vast arsenal of striking and clinching, to wrestling and judo, to submission grappling and ground & pound, we feel that the seamless transitions from one range to the other is what makes all the difference in MMA.
AL: My brother and I recently joined the Evolve Fight Team last September. Evolve MMA is based out of Singapore and is known for their world class instructors who are all experts in their craft. The team consists of numerous world champions in different disciplines from Muay Thai, to Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu, to Wrestling. At Evolve MMA, I am able to train with the best fighters in the world and solely focus on improving these individual arts. I am extremely happy and grateful to be apart of these two teams. For future fight camps, I will most likely spend an equal amount of time at each gym (4 weeks at United MMA and 4 weeks at Evolve MMA).

CJ: In 2015, you really burst out of the gates, fighting 4 times and as of now, 2 times in the first half of 2016. Can you talk about your quick turn arounds? What is the benefit to fighting so often? Any negatives?
AL: Last year, I fought 4 times in less than 7 months and the reason my Coach allowed me to fight so often was because I took little to no damage and the fights all ended in less than 2 rounds. For me, it's simple: I love to fight. Fighting back to back meant that I would get to do what I love more often and so I was very grateful for the opportunity! I loved that I was always in fight camp because it enabled me to stay close to my fight weight and most importantly, keep that fighting mindset. Of course, that isn't for everyone and there are some fighters who prefer a long rest period after each fight. I think it all comes down to circumstances, personal preference, and how you look at it.

CJ: You've had all your professional fights for One. What has that been like? How did you get your first fight with them lined up?
AL: ONE Championship is an awesome organization. They treat their fighters very well and I'm very happy to be in ONE. My relationship with ONE started when my Dad/ Coach reached out to the VP and Matchmaker, Matt Hume. My Dad had trained with Matt 20 years ago in Seattle, so when we heard of ONE Championship and did some research, that is when we made the connection.

CJ: You and your brother both have dynamic submission games, including twisters and neck ties, can you talk about the evolution of your grappling game?
AL: Our submission game definitely stands out amongst others in the organization but I feel that's because our entire game as a whole is very dynamic. I feel that our MMA game is on another level and that's all thanks to years of brilliant coaching from our Dad. He taught us how to fight for MMA and self defense purposes, not just to score points.

Angela Lee with a Twister
CJ:You're already the One champ and quickly becoming one of One's biggest stars. Can you talk about this? What are your goals moving forward?
AL: I am so stoked to be living my dream! I wake up everyday with gratitude because I am so thankful for all of the many blessings in my life. I'm very happy in ONE Championship and I hope to help expand the Women's divisions as well as bring in new talent into the organization. I have a feeling that Women's MMA is about to take off in Asia and I plan on leading the way for more up and coming aspiring female fighters to pursue their passion.

CJ: Looking at the numbers, One is putting on more and more women's fights.  Can you talk about this from your perspective?
AJ: From last year to now, that there has definitely been a big jump in the number of female fighters being signed as well as WMMA fights being held in ONE Championship. I am thrilled about this and very excited about all of the progress that has been made so far.
When I fought Mei Yamaguchi at ONE's 42nd event, we made history in being the first ever female fight to headline a card. By winning that fight, I became the inaugural Atomweight Champion and simultaneously had the honor of becoming ONE Championship's first female champion. This is only the beginning for a new era of WMMA in ONE Championship and Asia.

CJ: One recently implemented a new weight class classification system and a new weigh in procedure, which you've gone through now. Can you talk about the changes? How have you adjusted?
AJ: ONE Championship has taken the lead in implementing a much more healthier and safer weigh in procedure. Athletes now fight at their walking weight instead of cutting the weight of 1 full weight division the night before. Instead of changing all of the weight classes, ONE changed each weight class limit to the maximum of the previous weight class above it. For example, I fight at Atomweight which is normally 105lbs in other organizations. In ONE Championship however, the Atomweight limit is now from 105lbs-115lbs. I previously fought at Strawweight (115lbs) and would usually cut about 4-5 pounds in the sauna. For my title fight in May, I had to modify my training regime and keep to a very strict diet to get my walking weight down to 115lbs, but it was definitely worth it. I like the new system because it's very beneficial for fighters in the long run and will definitely prolong their "fight life" (years in the sport).

CJ: What do you do when you aren't training? Do you have any hobbies?
AL: I love to spend time with my family, watching movies, trying new places to eat, and going to the beach with my American Bulldog puppy, Rocky.

CJ: Evolve hosts a number of great fighters. Have you had the opportunity to train with Dos Anjos, Aoki, Askren or any of the Muay Thai champions there? If so what was it like?
AL: At Evolve MMA I train with numerous world champions daily. Everyone there, including Rafael, Shinya, and Ben are amazing people and I feel very lucky to be able to train, share knowledge, and learn from some of the best in the world.

CJ: Are there any fighters that you look up to or enjoy watching?
AL: My Brother, Christian Lee. That boy is an absolute beast! He tears through the competition with his skill and tenacity. It's always such a treat being in his corner and watching him fight. Christian is an unstoppable force that's taking the Featherweight division by storm. He will be the champion in the very near future... Mark my words!

CJ: Thank you for your time, is there anything you would like to say?  Anyone you'd like to thank?
AL: Yes, I'd like to thank my family, my gyms: United MMA & Evolve MMA, ONE Championship, my friends and fans all over the world! Thank you for your continuous support! You guys are the best!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Road FC 3/11

In 2010, Road FC held their first event. In 2013, Celine Haga fought Masako Yoshida in Road FC's first female fight. In 2014, Ham Seo Hee returned to Korea to fight for Road FC. This Saturday, Road FC will hold their first all-female fight card. Road FC has been developing their female divisions over the past 4 years, with women taking part in more fights each year. In 2016, 8% of Road FC's professional fights were fought by women and if this weekend's event is any indication, Road FC is going to go past that number this year as well.

One of the exciting thing about Road FC is that they have signed a bunch of young fighters who are still developing. For those who are unfamiliar, the fighters that I would keep an eye out for are Jeong-Eun Park,Ye-Ji Lee, Emi Fujino and Satoko Shinashi. Park and Lee are young up and comers and Fujino and Shinashi are established veterans. Lee will actually be fighting Shinashi in a rematch. Lee had a rough start to her career as she lost to Shinashi and Hisae Watanabe but she has since picked up two wins and looks to avenge her loss.

The card will be going down this Saturday and will definitely be worth a watch.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A conversation with Saya

Saya Ito, Picture Courtesy of Lady Go!

As some of you may know, Saya Ito is a Japanese senior in high school, who also happens to be one of the best 100lb fighters on the planet. Earlier this year, she became the WPMF Champion by defeating fellow Japanese fighter Little Tiger. There was some interesting lead up to the fight because it seemed to many that Little Tiger was avoiding Saya, which led to Saya going to a press conference and calling Little Tiger out. Saya proceeded to beat Little Tiger that night and later again, but injured her foot and has been noticeably absent from action. In addition, she relinquished her title. Some people, myself included, were curious to hear more about what happened to Saya. That curiosity led to the following conversation:

CJ: So, when did you injure your leg, was it in the first Little Tiger fight?
Saya: It was injured for a long time before the fight with Little Tiger. However, since I started taking more fights with a shorter turn-around, it got even worse.

CJ: Where exactly did it get injured?
Saya: At first it was the top of my right foot, the instep. It broke in the Little Tiger fight.

CJ: Do you remember when in the fight?
Saya: No, I don't remember.

CJ: Do you remember when it started giving you trouble?
Saya: No, I don't remember when it started hurting, I just remember that it had been hurting for a long time.

CJ: Can you talk about your second fight with Little Tiger?
Saya: My foot felt perfect during the fight. However, after the fight the same spot started to hurt again.

CJ: You tried really hard to get the first fight with Little Tiger. What was it like beating her twice?
Saya: I was happy about it, I didn't think that she could beat me.

CJ: Why were you so confident that you could beat her?
Saya: Because it was a Muay Thai fight.

CJ: You're saying you'd beat her because it wasn't a kickboxing fight?
Saya: That's right.

CJ: Do you think you want to fight her again next year? (She is the current WPMF Champion)
Saya: I don't think that I want to fight her.

CJ: Do you think you will fight next year?
Saya: I think so. I graduate from high school in March, so I am thinking about it.
CJ: I see.

Courtesy of LadyGo!
CJ: Is it ok if I ask you some questions about your WPMF title?
Saya: That's fine.

CJ: Why are you no longer the champion?
Saya: I couldn't defend the title, so I gave it up.

CJ: Was that your idea?
Saya: I couldn't fight, so I voluntarily gave it up.  In reality, I wouldn't have been able to defend the title in at least six months.
CJ: I see.

CJ: Some people thought that the WPMF might have stripped the title from you.
Saya: The head of Weerasakreck wanted me to have another rematch with Little Tiger. But I thought that fighting her three times in a row didn't really make sense, so I didn't do it and my coach and I returned the belt.

CJ: Is her coach an important figure with WPMF?
Saya: I don't understand the question.
CJ: I ask because it seems like Little Tiger is always able to get shots at the WPMF title. (laughter)
Saya: That's right (laughter)

CJ: Do you still want to train and fight in Thailaind?
Saya: I think so.

CJ: Back to the title, so did you give up the title because you didn't want to have a rematch with Little Tiger or because of your injury?
Saya: For both reasons. To start with, my foot was no good, then I told them there wouldn't be a third fight with Little Tiger, I told them I didn't understand what the meaning or purpose of fighting her again was so I refused to do it.

Saya Ito vs Little Tiger
Courtesy of LadyGo!
CJ: Is it ok if we move onto some questions people asked?
Saya: That's fine!

Q: Was it difficult training while going to high school, Japanese high school can be pretty difficult.
Saya: It wasn't that it was difficult, I was just very busy.

Q: What do your friends think of you being a fighter?
Saya: They support me.
CJ: Do they come to your fights?
Saya: There are times when they come.

Q: Is there any manga or anime that you like?
Saya: I like Drangonball Z! (laughter)
CJ: Which character do you like?
Saya: Goku!

Q: Since you've been injured, have you still been training?
Saya: Not really, I have been concentrating on studying for school.
CJ: That's right, are you thinking of taking the entrance exams?
Saya: I'm still thinking about it.

Q: Can you talk about what is unique about Thai fighters, what makes them different from Japanese fighters?
Saya: When I first trained in Thailand, the first thing that came to my mind was the difference in the amount of training.
CJ: Did you notice anything different about their style?
Saya: Do you mean their fight style?
CJ: Yes.
Saya: Since Japan has a lot of kickboxers, I think Japanese fighters tend to come forward more aggressively.

Q: Do you still want to fight around the world?
Saya: I think so.

CJ: If you go to college, do you think you'll take a break from Muay Thai?
Saya: It will depend on the circumstances at that time.

Q: What is the difference between Japanese and Thai judges?
Saya: In Japan, there are not a lot of points given in the clinch. In Japan, they also give more points for punching.
CJ: Yes, I've heard that in Thailand they do not give a lot of points for punches.
Saya: Yes, that's right, I don't think they give a lot of points for punches in Thailand.
CJ: I've also heard that the first round isn't that important in Thailand, what is it like in Japan?
Saya: In Japan, there are Japanese judges so the first round is also important.

CJ: Before you talked about how busy you were with school, your job, and training, what was your schedule like?
Saya: From Monday to Friday, I went to school then trained. On Saturday and Sunday, I worked at my part-time job. On days that I didn't have work, I met up with my friends or went to watch fights.

CJ: Thanks for answering all these questions. Is there anything you would like to say?
Saya: It's not a problem. When I return, I would like you all to continue to support me!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kunlun Female MMA Stats

Kunlun Fight, a Chinese promotion, has been developing female talent within China. This is an atypical case because Kunlun is not a MMA promotion, it is a Kickboxing promotion. However, Kunlun does have a variety of fights under other rules, including MMA fights. Kunlun has only been putting on MMA fights for roughly three years and has not been on a lot of people's radar. However, the promotion has put on 30 female mma fights and has helped develop a couple solid fighters, most notably Maryna Moroz, who fought for the promotion twice and is now in the UFC.

When I look at the data, it seems that Kunlun wants to create a couple of Chinese stars. In order to accomplish this goal, they are willing to fly in women to fight these women. There are three women that stick out, Jin Tang, Jingnan Xiong and Weili Zhang. They combine for roughly half of the fights in the promotion. Outside of them, women are usually brought into the promotion for one fight, most frequently from the Ukraine. This is not a strange practice. Numerous promotions in the area do this, the idea being that you fly in a foreigner to fight the local fighter to get the crowd behind the local fighter and to develop a fan base.

Kunlun recently took their show on the road and had an event in Japan, where Weili Zhang defeated Emi Fujino by TKO (Cut). Prior to the cut, it was an exciting fight and with what I have seen in other promotions, it seems clear that more and more contenders are going to begin emerging from China, with Weili Zhang potentially leading the way. The charts below illustrate that while Kunlun is putting on more and more fights, they are maintaing a nice percentage of female fights with 25% of their MMA fights in 2014, 15% of their fights in 2015 and 24% of their fights in 2016 so far involving women. While Kunlun is doing a good job of developing certain fighters, it would be nice to see them expand what I will call their "permanent roster".

2016 is not over
2016 is not over

List of women who have fought for Kunlun:

Munkhgerel Bayarmaa 1
Karla Benitez 1
Mara Romero Borella 1
Julia Borisova 1
Daria Chibisova 1
Emi Fujino 1
Viktoria Godomchuk 1
Svetlana Gotsyk 1
Feier Huang 3
Inna Hutsal 1
Samantha Jean-Francois 1
Yoo Jin Jung 1
Eugenia Kostina 1
Rochelle Lestino 1
Marina Lvova 1
Yana Lyashko 1
Liliya Kazak 3
Maira Mazar 1
Maryna Moroz 2
Anastasiya Rybalochko 1
Aya Saied Saber 2
Natalya Safronova 1
Colleen Schneider 1
Jin Tang 13
Ekaterina Tarnavskaja 1
Liubov Tiupina 1
Fabrina Vanessa 1
Jingnan Xiong 9
Malihe Younes 1
Weili Zhang 5

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

One Female Fight Stats

One of the top promotions in the world, One Championship, a Singapore based promotion, has been putting on an increasing amount of fights in Asia. Starting with 10 fights in 2011, One has increased the number of fights each year to a total of 106 so far in 2016. One has also been developing female talent in the region. When one thinks of One, fighters such as Angela Lee and Ann Osman come to mind and have been heavily promoted by the Organization. What is interesting and important about One, is that they are developing female fighters in areas that we do not traditionally see a lot of fighters emerging from. For example, One has signed the first Taiwanese female mixed martial artist, Malaysian, Cambodian, and Indian female mixed martial artists. Another piece of information that sticks out, is that One tends to bring female fighters back. Other promotions can have the tendency to bring in fighters to fight a promotional fighter and then not bring them back, but more than 50% of the women who fought for One fought for them at least twice.

2016 is not over
While a majority of the women signed by One are not making their mixed martial arts debut, One is giving a lot of women the opportunity to fight on a big stage and to gain valuable experience. One of the most memorable fights in One's history is the title fight between Angela Lee and Mei Yamaguchi. In addition to the fight, Angela Lee is arguably One's most visible star and most popular fighter. This year One signed Angela Lee to a large contract, showing their intent to keep her as one of the faces of the growing promotion. In my opinion, One was actively looking for a female star to promote. One originally threw their weight behind Ann Osman, who has fought for the promotion 7 times, but when Angela Lee burst onto the scene with her exciting submissions, they quickly threw their weight behind her, who has fought for the promotion 6 times, and led to them crowning their first female champion.

Total Fights and Female Fights
At a recent Asian MMA Summit, both Angela Lee and Ann Osman spoke about women in MMA, showing at least an intent by One to continue to expand and develop female fighters within their promotion and the region. Having interviewed several of their fighters, I got the sense that these women's success in One has led to more women coming to their gyms and training, which will most likely lead to more female fighters in the future. If this is true, One's investment in these women seems to be paying off. Hopefully, as more female fighters become available in the area, a greater percentage of One's fights will include women. My only issue is that with One's new weight procedures and classifications, I wonder what is going to happen to their 105ers.

Women who have fought for One:

Walaa Abas (2) 
Amira Badr (1) 
Vy Srey Chai (2) 
Nicole Chua (1) 
Kirstie Gannaway (2)
Renecca Heintzman 1
Natalie Hills (2)
Jenny Huang (3)
Ana Julaton (4)
Angela Lee (6)
Sherilyn Lim (1)
Irina Mazepa (2)
Jujeath Nagaowa (2)
Istela Nunes (1)
Adek Omar (1)
April Osenio (3)
Ann Osman (7)
Elena Pashnina (1)
Ehpriyanut Phouthong (1)
Desi Rahayu (1)
Aya Saied Saber (3)
Tharoth Sam (3)
Mona Samir (1)
Ella Tang (1)
Lena Tkhorevska (1)
Jeet Toshi (4)
Mei Yamaguchi (2)
Haiat Farag Youssef (1)