Megumi Fujii Chases Perfection at Bellator 31, Battles Sexism in Japan


Daniel Herbertson talks about Megumi Fujii's attempt to do what's never been done in MMA:

Miguel Torres won 20 fights before he faltered. Satoko Shinashi and Jason Black both managed to win 21 fights before suffering their first losses. On Sept. 30 at Bellator 31, Megumi Fujii will attempt to be the first person in MMA to ever go 22-0.

In her attempt to take the record, Fujii will face submission specialist Lisa Ward in a rematch of their controversial 2007 bout.
"My loss to Megumi should have been a no contest," said Ward in an interview with "The fight was stopped because the referee thought I tapped and admitted he never actually saw it. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but I was defending properly and was in no danger of submitting. Megumi is a great competitor, but in this fight, I'm going to play my game, and deliver her the first loss in her career."

Tony Loiseleur has an incredible piece about Fuji and the cultural hurdles faced by women fighters in Japan's conservative culture:

However, a more particular kind of bias has impeded women's MMA in Japan and made it difficult for women to pursue prizefighting. It is a combination of history, social tendency and resistance to change that makes women's MMA a niche sport. Despite some casual notions that women's MMA is both accepted and flourishing in Japan, women's opportunities to make a career of professional MMA both domestically and abroad have been slim to none.


Watch a women's MMA fight in Japan, and the paternalistic compromises are clear: shortened fights, some are three three-minute rounds while most are two five-minute rounds; awkward, oversized gloves; over-officious referees who are quick "save" women from harm before submissions are fully applied or when strikes are not even landing. Ground-and-pound -- an essential element of MMA -- is almost entirely verboten, save for a few marquee bouts.

Loiseleur makes a strong case that the sexism that is holding back the growth of women's MMA in Japan is a hold over from the sexist conventions of pro wrestling:

Though its message differed, women's pro wrestling (in Japan) was a similar social project in being demonstrative of femininity. Its heroines and villainesses were archetypal caricatures of pro- and anti-womanhood. The "faces" fit the heteronormative understanding of what the Japanese perceived to be properly feminine -- young, nubile and morally pure -- while the "heels" were aberrations of that model -- physically imposing, butch and aggressive.

It was not until the 1970s when teenage wrestlers-stroke-pop singers like the 16-year-old "Mach" Fumiake Watanabe and the similarly young Jackie Sato-Maki Ueda tag-team "Beauty Pair" became crossover, mainstream celebrities that women's pro wrestling gained any kind of traction. Promoters further continued to ensure that proper gender roles were adhered to: until the 1990s, women's pro wrestling in Japan maintained a mandatory retirement age of 26, out of consideration for future marriage and family-raising.

Japan's longstanding ties to the pseudo-sport thus made it impossible to disentangle MMA from its pro wrestling roots. In speaking with promoters of today's most prominent Japanese women's MMA promotions -- Deep, Valkyrie and Jewels -- all admit that this connection to professional wrestling and the social conventions it supported is what has kept women's MMA from growing over the past decade.

He also documents Fujii's rebellion from those confining strictures:

Fujii is the exception. She is one of the few women in Japanese MMA that has leveraged her successes against promoters in an attempt to conduct her career in a manner that largely reflects men's MMA careers. She is personally fueled by the notion that MMA is a global sport, actively seeks to face her best contemporaries and feels she deserves to be paid for it.

Since her MMA debut in 2004, Fujii has steadfastly campaigned for women to fight under full MMA rules, so much so that she has occasionally brought about the ire of promoters for whom she fought. In her July 2009 bout against Saori Ishioka, Jewels' staff had to keep the fact that the fight would be contested under full MMA rules a secret from event advisor and Deep promoter Shigeru Saeki, a staunch opponent of ground-and-pound in women's MMA.

Bellator's heavyweight tournament may have been a lay and pray fest featuring more lard than a Crisco factory, but their women's tournament has featured nothing but great action so far. 

We'll be live blogging Fujii vs Ward and the rest of the Bellator 31 card here at Bloody Elbow, but for most of you FSN's disinterest in showing MMA live means that you might be able to watch WEC live and then immediately catch a replay of Bellator on FSN right after.

SBN coverage of Bellator 31

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