The Queen of Pancrase. For those familiar with the testosterone heavy environment of the pioneering MMA promotion, it's something that's tough to wrap your head around. It's not just the MMA business that is changing, it's Japan. A once fiercely patriarchal society is welcoming women into the workforce in record numbers. The role of motherhood, at one time so lauded and respected, has shifted into the background as Japanese women have fewer and fewer babies. These two news items, of course, are connected at the hip. But that's a story for another time and another blog. The times are indeed changing - and that includes MMA as well.
The very traditional Pancrase promotion is opening its doors to female MMA, not as a simple gimmick match, but as a real part of the promotion. Pancrase has featured women on their shows since 2004, but never in any organized manner. By 2009, women had seemed to disappear entirely from Pancrase. Not anymore. This year they've announced their intentions, not just to promote female fights, but to crown champions, the first ever Queens of Pancrase in fourteen weight classes. Nightmare of Battle has the details on the changes:
All weight classes above will apply to both males and females so from May onward Pancrase are officially introducing female weight classes to the promotion. The champions of male weight classes will be called King Of Pancrase as before while the champions of female weight classes will be called Queen Of Pancrase. I think they want to hold some championship fights for the new weight classes in December and have single fights to decide who faces who until then.
Three money bonuses will be added to events from May and onward as well. Fight of the night (~615 USD each), KO of the night (~370 USD), and submission of the night (~370 USD). Sponsors, who will pay the bonuses, will also decide who gets them and the winners will be announced at the end of each event. New Pancrase representative Ryo Kawamura hopes for aggressive fights with these bonuses added. He knows that the bonuses don’t give much right now but wants them to grow in the future.
Last weekend, for the first time in the promotion's history, a Pancrase show was headlined by women. Rising star Mei Yamaguchi won a majority decision over long time standout "Windy" Sunaba, a kickboxer who helped jump start the women's division in 2005. After controlling Sunaba in the first round, Yamaguchi struggled in the second frame. MMA Rising breaks down the action:
The second round was a different story, however, as Sunaba scored with numerous knees to the face and body. After defending early takedown attempts from Yamaguchi, Sunaba landed a right cross and began to punish her opponent with the knees. She reversed a takedown and Yamaguchi wound up on the ground with Sunaba standing over her. Sunaba punched from the top, then backed Yamaguchi into a corner as the fighters stood. Sunaba landed another big knee and hard punches in the final minute, but the strikes were not enough and two judges awarded the action-packed bout to Yamaguchi.
Yamaguchi has already been announced for the promotion's show May 3rd in Tokyo. With women's MMA in a fragile state in America, in many ways a sport at the mercy of Dana White and the UFC, it must be nice for female athletes to know that as one door seems to be closing, another is opening up.