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Learning more about ‘Momo,’ the 12-year-old making her MMA debut at DEEP Jewels 16

More info on “Momo,” the 12-year-old Japanese student who’s ready to make her amateur MMA debut at DEEP Jewels 16 on May 20th.

Video screenshot

On Saturday, May 20th in Tokyo, Japan, DEEP Jewels 16 will feature the amateur MMA debut of a 12-year-old girl simply known as “Momo.” She’ll be taking on 24-year-old Momoko Yamasaki, whose amateur record is 2-2 (although others have it written as 2-3) and otherwise works at a Hostess Bar.

Under the promotion’s amateur rules, both fighters will be wearing head gear, shin guards, and thicker gloves. Strikes to the head on the ground are forbidden, and elbows are not allowed. This video of a DEEP Jewels bout from 2011 between Yukari Yamaguchi (then 13 years old) and Nana Ichikawa is a perfect example.

Momo trains at Hakushinkai Karate, which boasts an impressive treasure trove of Japanese MMA talent, including the aforementioned Yamaguchi, DEEP Jewels strawweight champion Mizuki Inoue (often stylized as MIZUKI), as well as her brother Naoki Inoue, who is 10-0 and scheduled to make his UFC debut at next month’s Singapore card. MIZUKI and Naoki made their professional MMA debuts at just 16, ditto for Yamaguchi, who started out with shootboxing before her first pro MMA fight at 17.

When you stack up all of the historical evidence of training in martial arts from childhood before getting into amateur MMA competition at a very young age (12-13 years old), Momo is just following in the footsteps of her teammates. You can check out some of her recent training footage with Naoki Inoue in the video below.

For whatever reason, this particular matchup caught the attention of major news outlets outside of the MMA media bubble. Articles were most notably written up on the New York Post, Deadspin, and RT. Addressing the controversy and perhaps the shock value of a pre-teen fighting an adult, amateur rules or not, Hakushinkai Karate’s Sadanori Yamaguchi wrote the following statement, defending both the fairly common practice as well as providing background on Momo’s martial arts experience.

"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 centimeters 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.

Bold emphasis is mine.

(The full statement can be read here, at CJ’s Report.)

The intrigue behind Momo’s story led to Uproxx’s Jason Nawara conducting an interview with her, and she provided some insight on her upbringing — her mom and dad have no combat sports experience — and long-term goals in the sport.

What got you interested in martial arts? Are you a fan of MMA?

My older brother began taking Karate class and I just followed him. Instead of promotions, I am a fan of strong female fighters such as my senpai [older teammates] Mizuki and Yukari Yamaguchi, and also I like RENA [Kubota]. I did watch [the] last RIZIN show though. But I really like watching Invicta FC and DEEP JEWELS.


What is your future? Do you hope to have a long and illustrious career?

I am not that strong yet so not sure about my future, but I do like to continue fighting for DEEP JEWELS.

Are you at all concerned with what fighting at a young age may do to your body? Will it affect your longevity?

I am not injured and I have no intention of quitting. I don’t know much about longevity.


In Japan, you can go pro in MMA at 15. Do you hope to one day fight in the UFC?

For now, I want to fight in DEEP JEWELS. UFC is too way up there, so I don’t know what to think.

What is your preferred martial art? BJJ? Stand up?

Recently, I really began enjoying grappling but I also like striking too.


Do other young girls try to fight you to test your skills? How does that work out for them?

Recently I’ve only fighting boys, so sometimes I won and sometimes I lost. Against girls, I have been winning most of the time. Last loss against a girl was a kickboxing bout I did in Osaka last year.

Rather disappointingly, she doesn’t know who Josh Barnett is. It’s never too late to correct that, though.

If you want to catch the entire card, it will stream live on the Deep Jewels website. Momo vs. Yamasaki is set for two 3-minute rounds. If history is a guide, perhaps five years from now she’ll be on the radar as one of the top prospects in women’s MMA, and a future champion in Japan.

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