"I think Bellator treats me as a professional MMA fighter regardless of my gender."
On its face, this short reply to my question about how life is treating Megumi Fujii in Bellator doesn't tell us much. Reading between the lines, it says everything. For years, Fujii has fought the good fight against promoters in Japan, demanding to be treated like a real fighter. In a patronizing industry, one that didn't allow women to compete under full MMA rules and stopped fights at the first sign of danger, Fujii was a bit of a rabble rouser. She made it clear that she thought women needed to challenge themselves in the ring the same way men do - and for a similar price.
It's hard to recognize that hard as nails Fujii when you see her with her cats on her blog or see how demure she becomes in the cage after a fight. After her business is done, the world's best female fighter looks pensive, almost sad.
"When I am done fighting I am back to the normal version of 'Megumi Fujii', not a fighter, so I feel like I'm in an inappropriate place being inside the cage," Fujii said, attempting to explain the abrupt 180 of emotion that occurs immediately after one of her fights. "Then I think about my opponents' families, supporters and team-mates, and how they are also here, also sharing happiness and sadness with the opponents. I believe fighting is very momentary and deep as one's life is."
Despite an undefeated record in Japan, there were plenty of questions surrounding Fujii. The inability of promoters to match her with two of the other Japanese greats, Miku Matsumoto and Yuka Tsuji, made many think she was ducking the top fighters in her weight class. Those issues have been cast aside thanks to her short tenure in Bellator. Facing all comers, Fujii has shined. Three fights have resulted in three finishes - and the veteran has shown marked improvement in her stand up game.
"When I found out I was going to fight in Bellator I began training boxing with George Nogi. He is teaching me not just to box but he also works with me in strengthening my mentality as a female fighter. He understands my past fighting careers and experiences and is very encouraging. I have a lot of respect for him so I'm able to use his advice with full confidence when I fight," Fujii said. "I don't feel I am very good at copying any fighting styles but I'm always about getting a KO or submission from any positions, and that is my own style. It is always important to open up any possibilities of myself."
Fujii, generally prohibited from striking on the ground at all, is preparing for her first fight in a long time where elbow strikes will be legal. To Fujii, it's just another tool in an expanding toolbox, much like the catch wrestling techniques she's learned from Erik Paulsen and Josh Barnett.
"I think the way Josh and Erik teach helps me to relax and that helps me to learn catch wrestling techniques. Their skills are interesting and also appreciate them very much," Fujii said. She's hoping these interesting techniques and the success of her American adventure will lead to increased popularity for female MMA in Japan.
A small and devoted following will watch the fights on PPV there, the first in what promoters hope will be a rising wave of fans that will bring the sport to the staggering level female professional wrestling reached in the 1980s. "My friends are enjoying watching my fights via 'MMA channel' which is a Japanese internet TV. I hope there will be more MMA TV shows in Japan! I haven't talked with my promoters about what I'm doing after the tournament, but I hope to keep fighting in Bellator."
Bellator middleweight champion, Hector Lombard will defend his belt against Russian challenger and number one contender, Alexander Shlemenko.
Plus the Season 3 Women's Tournament World Championship fight between the #1 ranked pound-for-pound female fighter in the world Megumi "Mega Megu" Fujii and explosive striker Zoila "The Warrior Princess" Frausto.