Tsuji Defends Smackgirl Lightweight Title

By Tony Loiseleur and Stephen Martinez Dec 26, 2007
TOKYO, Japan, Dec. 26--- Smackgirl entered a new chapter Wednesday evening with its final 2007 card, "Starting Over," which was notably marked as being the first event to discard the oft-criticized 30-second ground rule.

Despite keeping strikes to the head of an opponent on the ground illegal, the new rules opened up opportunities for grapplers to pursue positions and submissions without the threat of a strict time limit.

Prior to this, only a select few in the promotion were offered the opportunity to compete under full MMA rules, most notable of which was Smackgirl lightweight champion, Yuka Tsuji (Pictures), who defended her title for the third time by defeating Korean women's MMA standout, Su Hi Ham (Pictures).

Round one saw Tsuji dominate Ham on the mat, as she seemed to want nothing to do with the Korean Muay Thai champion on the feet. After being stuffed initially, Tsuji was able to score the single-leg takedown off of a stiff jab. From there, the champ began attacking the challenger's legs, looking to take her foot off in heelhooks and Achilles holds. Ham hung on however, dropping hammerfists and punches to the body as she defended attempt after attempt.

The second and third period looked nearly identical to the first, as Tsuji doggedly kept to her game plan of shooting for the single-leg to bring Ham to the canvas, where she would transition to dominant position en route to locking on a submission attempt. Ham appeared to have difficulty getting off more than one or two punches on the champ before the inevitable takedowns however, as the Korean conceded just about every single-leg attempt that Tsuji made.

Impressively spinning out of otherwise tight-looking armbars and reversing position on the champ, Ham was unable to capitalize when achieving dominant positions. Outside of hammering Tsuji's body with punches and the occasional knee from on top in these rare reversals, Tsuji's repeated takedowns and submission attempts won her the bout on all three scorecards.

Smackgirl flyweight champion, Satoko Shinashi (Pictures) claimed her latest victory over Akemi Morihara, heelhooking her late replacement opponent late into the first round.

Replacing Thai MMA newcomer Ann, who apparently had visa issues earlier this month, Morihara was clearly unprepared to take on the champ, as she was unable to stop Shinashi's takedowns and aggression on the ground. Passing and transitioning from dominant position to dominant position at will, Shinashi worked Morihara over for the duration of their bout, throwing out numerous submission attempts en route to the final heelhook.

Despite being able to fend off a variety of vicious looking leg and foot locks, Morihara's defense crumbled at the 4:17 mark, when Shinashi finally locked on the heelhook, forcing the tap and the towel from Morihara's corner at the same time.

Towering over her opponent, Lana Stefanac (Pictures) bullied her way to a unanimous decision victory over former Smackgirl open-weight champion, Megumi Yabushita (Pictures) in their open-weight bout. Essentially looking to be twice the size of her Japanese opponent, Stefanac stalked Yabushita about the ring, attacking with slow but heavy low kicks and punches.

To her credit, Yabushita was not rocked by the powerful blows, but merely pushed around the ring. In response, the Japanese fighter sought to employ wide, overhand counter hooks between Stefanac's barrages. When pressed into the corner and forced to eat uppercuts and scores of knees, Yabushita would cover up and attempt to block while awaiting the opportunity to spin out and resume circling. Despite two impressive but otherwise futile judo throws, Yabushita was hard pressed to come up with any way to best Stefanac, who walked away the unanimous decision victor.

Karate starlet Saori Ishioka (Pictures) looked to be in trouble early on, but prevailed against opponent Thricia Poovey, armbarring the American toward the end of the first round. Poovey looked to be off to a good start in her Smackgirl return bout, throwing vicious hooks that caused Ishioka to cover up and reevaluate her primary game plan of banging her opponent out.

Resorting to judo tactics, Ishioka advanced under Poovey's fire until entering the clinch, where she hip tossed the American to the canvas twice. On her second hip throw, Ishioka worked for the armbar from mount, forcing the tap at the 4:18 mark.

Emi Fujino (Pictures) took a competitive split decision over V Hajime (Pictures), as she stalked and sniped her shorter opponent with scores of clean punches that didn't necessarily rock the judo player, but piled up the points in her favor. Though V Hajime (Pictures) was able to put in several good punches of her own, her game plan largely consisted of jumping into the clinch for the takedown, resulting in her eating a number of punches and knees for her trouble.

Upon getting the fight to the ground, V Hajime (Pictures) had little in the way of an arsenal to put her opponent away, thus dooming herself to having the fight return to standing when the referee broke them up. After two rounds of largely controlling position but losing out in damage points, only one judge ruled in favor of V Hajime (Pictures), while the remaining two ruled for Fujino for the split decision.

Madoka Okada (Pictures) put a striking clinic on Shawn Tamaribuchi (Pictures), catching her at almost every instant of the fight's standup portion. Without much recourse but to offer otherwise ineffective low and middle kicks, Tamaribuchi's salvation appeared to be to take the fight to the floor and out-grapple her opponent.

Unfortunately for Tamaribuchi, Okada could more than hold her own on the ground, since the karateka ended up being the more active of the two, locking on a number of submission attempts that kept the American fighter backpedaling. After two rounds controlling Tamaribuchi both on the feet and on the ground, Okada was awarded the unanimous decision victory.

Megumi Fujii (Pictures) breezed through former amateur wrestler Mika Nagano, tapping out the MMA newcomer at 1:20 in the first round. After two middle kicks, Fujii ducked under some grazing Nagano punches for the ankle lock attempt, but found herself quickly transitioning to the triangle as Nagano fended off the foot lock. Without even haven broken a sweat yet, Fujii applied the pressure, bringing Nagano to the verge of unconsciousness, prompting the referee to step in and call the bout.

In the evening's preliminary bouts, Kanako Takeshita (Pictures) ate punishment in the form of punches and knees before submitting Benkei via armbar at 2:52 in the first round. Similarly, Yasuko Tamada (Pictures), outmatched on the feet, defeated Maho Muranami (Pictures) by taking her down and dominating position through two rounds for the unanimous decision.

Last but not least, Miki Morifuji defeated HARI by way of Achilles lock at 3:06 in the first round.
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