Sunday, April 30, 2017

Momo vs Yamazaki: Perspective

MMA veteran Kenji Osawa and Momo
In May, Deep Jewels 16 will take place. Outside of Japan, attention has been drawn to an amateur fight on the undercard between Momo and Momoko Yamazaki. Attention has been drawn to the fight because of the ages of the competitors as Momo is 12 and Yamazaki is 24. While any competition with such an age gap is bound to raise eyebrows, it is important to understand the circumstances surrounding the match.

First off, it is important to understand that the match is under Deep Jewels amateur rules. Both competitors will wear shin guards, knee pads, thicker gloves, and head gear. Strikes to the head are only allowed on the feet, while strikes like elbows are not allowed. Having witnessed a number of these matches, in effect, the match is divided into two hemispheres. On the feet, the match looks like an amateur kickboxing match, whereas on the ground, it looks like a grappling match. In addition, this match is taking place at a Deep Jewels event. In their professional fights, fights are regularly stopped for nose bleeds and "technical submissions," so it is safe to assume that the refs will be even quicker to stop a fight under the amateur rules.

Second, for those unfamiliar with the Japanese martial arts scene, this match may look like a squash match. I would have to agree, but on a different result. This match is clearly a match designed to build Momo, not Yamazaki. Momo trains at a strong gym with strong fighters and looks to potentially have a bright future. Yamazaki is a 24 year old, untrained, hostess. While it it true that Yamazaki has a 2-3 amateur record going into this fight, those stats are misleading. Her two wins are against opponents who have a combined record of 0-4 and all of those fights were in the Outsider promotion, a promotion that puts less emphasis on skill and more on brawls. Yamazaki was marketed as the hostess with a troubled past. In contrast, Momo has been training at Hakushinkai 6 days a week, four hours a day since she was 3.

Third, while this may seem like weird match making, Momo is following in the foot steps of her fellow gym mates and other young talent. Momo trains at Hakushinkai, a small but strong gym in Toyohashi, a 3 and 1/2 hour train ride from Tokyo. I had the opportunity to visit the gym two years ago and meet Coach Yamaguchi. He made a strong impression on me. Yamaguchi teaches mainly young athletes and above all stresses defense. This can be seen in two of his students, Mizuki Inoue and Yukari Yamaguchi, both of whom have excellent head movement and have been notably hard to hit.

Yukari started out, entering into Karate tournaments when she was 12. She then made her amateur mma debut when she was 13 against a 32 year old. She won the match via armbar. She then fought professionally in Shoot Boxing at 16, where she defeated Deep Jewels Champ and One FC title challenger V.V. Mei and Mio Tsumura in one night to become a Girl's S-Cup Champion.

Yukari vs Mei
Mizuki made her amateur kickboxing debut when she was 14, her pro Shoot Boxing debut at 15, and her mma debut at 16. Interestingly, she fought  and defeated Emi Fujino (29 at the time) when she was 15. She also fought in contact karate tournaments when she was 15. She then fought Alex Chambers when she was 17 and Bec Rawlings when she was 18.

Naoki Inoue, who will be making his UFC debut this year, made his amateur Shoot Boxing debut when he was 13. He also fought in two amateur mma matches when he was 13 and made his pro debut at 15. He is now 10-0.

What this pattern shows, is that Coach Yamaguchi tends to start athletes he feels are able in amateur completion around 13 or 14. Two of these three became world champions and one is making his UFC debut soon.

Matches like this are not that uncommon in Japan. Muay Thai phenom Saya Ito has been competing from a very young age. During her amateur days she fought Tenshin Nasukawa twice, without padding. In these matches, the top amateur female fought the top amateur male. Both eventually become world champions.

Recently, Japanese mma veteran and long-time trainer, Kenji Osawa made a trip to Hakushinkai with a camera crew to film a segment in preparation for Naoki's UFC debut. During his trip, Kenji had the opportunity to see and train with Momo. When asked about what he thought, he responded that "when I sparred with her, I could tell she trains everyday. She is very strong and I think, for her to be able to experience [this fight] will be a big plus for her future. Some fighters in Muay Thai became incredibly strong because they fought from a young age, so I have nothing but high expectations for Momo's future."
Coach Yamaguchi
Below is a message from Coach Yamaguchi:

"Hello to everyone in America, I am Yamaguchi, the chairman of Hakushinkai Karate. I heard there is an argument taking place in America about one of my students Momo fighting an adult, therefore, I would like to state my opinion and understanding in regards to this matter.

First of all, her fight is going to be held under amateur rules in the preliminary part of the event and Deep Jewels amateur rules are very safe. Some of the reports published in America have false information such as Momo will be fighting a professional fighter. That is not true at all. Momo is fighting an amateur fighter with no pro-experience. Also, Momo has been training 6 days a week since she was in kindergarten. So far she has competed in over 100 amateur BJJ, Kickboxing, and Karate matches, therefore, she has far more experience in combat sports than her upcoming opponent Ms. Momoko Yamazaki.

Since Momo is just three centimeteres shorter and three kilograms less than Yamazaki, I have decided to accept the offer from Deep Jewels because I believe Momo is fully capable of fighting Ms. Yamazaki. As far as I know, in the past, Jewels has done fights between 13 year olds vs adults, 12 year olds vs adults, and in those fights, the younger fighters won by submission.

Hakushinkai Karate may not have a large number of professional fighters but one of my students, Mizuki became a professional champion at 16 and received an offer from the UFC whens she was 18. Another student of mine, Yukari, also won a professional title at 16 and recently, Naoki, my other student, signed with the UFC at 19.

If you look at these proven track records of teenage fighters from my dojo, and if you can imagine the effort my students have been putting into training, I hope, all of you out there realize that this matchmaking by Deep Jewels is not something crazy. In addition, I've never forced my students to fight or compete. Momo is very excited about fighting for the promotion she has admired for years and she has been training very hard.

Because of the reasons stated above, I believe there is going to be no problem for Momo to fight Ms.  Yamazaki. But if you ask me, are you sure its not dangerous? Then, I can't say its not dangerous at all because, in any combat sport, there is always a possibility that a competitor could be in danger or lose  the fight in a lopsided manner. All combat sports can be dangerous but I believe the possibility of Momo getting hurt is the same as boxing or wrestling bouts between two competitors in the same weight division. In Japan, there are many young-teenagers competing in BJJ, Judo, Wrestling, and Boxing, and the sport that combined all of these skills is MMA, but I don't believe that this means MMA is more dangerous than these combat sports.

Again, the upcoming fight of Momo will be held under amateur rules and my understanding of these rules is that they are very safe for the competitors. I would also like to thank those who have raised their concern for my student, Momo. If I am one of those in the general public, that doesn't have a lot of knowledge about MMA, I would probably think along the same lines. However, because of the reasons stated above, I would appreciate it if you can understand that Momo's upcoming fight is not something very dangerous. I will probably come to the U.S. again in the near future with one of my students so I would greatly appreciate it if you in America could understand my opinions.


Sadanori Yamaguchi
Hakushinkai Karate

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