Megumi Fujii (top) denied Mika Nagano in a "revenge" bout. | Photo: Taro Irei
TOKYO -- Bellator Fighting Championships 115-pound women’s tournament finalist Megumi Fujii successfully returned to Jewels with a lopsided victory at Jewels “15th Ring” on Saturday at Shinjuku Face, outclassing promotional postergirl Mika Nagano. The bout was billed as a “revenge bout” three years in the making for Nagano, who initially met Fujii in her MMA debut in 2007 in the now defunct Smackgirl promotion.
While Nagano had the wherewithal to not submit to a first-round triangle choke this time, Fujii nonetheless beat her from pillar to post for an all-too-brief two-rounds. The situation was further complicated by the fact that it was one of the only bouts on the card contested under official Jewels rules, which restrict punches to the face of a grounded opponent. Fujii still bashed the Jewels star with furious punches, albeit on the feet. Nagano sucked Fujii into the clinch to try and save herself from the punishment, but the situation remained grim for her as she soon found herself on the defensive on the ground. Fujii passed guard with relative ease, sat high in mount and dropped punches to the body while Nagano clammed up in the hopes of defending against the strikes and the inevitable armbar attempts and Achilles’ locks.
Outside of a last-minute capture of Fujii’s back in the final 10 seconds of the bout, the thoroughly outmatched Nagano had little to offer the savvy veteran; a realization with which judges Ryogaku Wada, Yoshinori Umeki and Akira Yamazaki agreed in giving their decisions unanimously for Fujii.
“I worked a lot on my striking since that’s what I wanted to do in this fight. Some things in the bout went well, and some didn’t,” Fujii told Sherdog.com afterwards. “I think I should have stayed on the feet to strike more, so that didn’t work out as well as I wanted. If we had fought under full MMA rules, however, I feel as though I would have pounded her out to a TKO.”
Fujii’s chief cornerman, former UFC heavyweight champion and 2011 Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix semifinalist Josh Barnett, revealed more of a tough-love attitude to his pupil’s inability to finish.
“I think if it was of utter, dire importance to get the finish, she should have finished in the first. I think that Megumi has the capability to take [Nagano] out during the time given. She has no excuses,” he said, conceding that Nagano had vastly improved since her first fight with Fujii.
Toward the end of sharpening Fujii’s finishing skills for an eventual return to either the Bellator cage or the Jewels ring, Barnett proposed to set up “Mega Megu’s” next camp stateside in California. However, the pound-for-pound women’s luminary is hesitant to commit.
“I’d love to go, but lately, I’ve been going to the hospital more frequently to take care of the herniated discs in my lower back,” she said. “I feel more comfortable staying in Japan and receiving care from Japanese doctors, to whom I can communicate with in my native language. I’d love to train with Josh, but this has made things difficult.”
Akano Edges Modafferi on the Cards
In a redux of their planned Sengoku “Soul of Fight” bout from December -- a bout from which Roxanne Modafferi withdrew due to illness -- Hitomi Akano edged the American transplant on the judges’ cards in a contentious decision.
Modafferi arguably took the first round, pursuing Akano on the feet with volume punching and clinch knees, as Akano backpedalled to throw counter head and middle kicks. The judoka in Akano hit several high-amplitude “harai goshi” on the American throughout, but Modafferi’s grit and tenacity saw her quickly reversing to take top position and flailing away with punches and hammerfists on top.
Akano’s heel hook, Achilles’ lock and armbar attempts in the second round arguably tipped the scales in her favor for that period, but Modafferi defended against them by continuing her manic ground-and-pound assault.
Akano and Modafferi split two rounds on Sherdog.com’s unofficial scorecards, but judges Yamazaki, Umeki and Kenichi Serizawa were more decisive, giving the unanimous decision to Akano.
“I was surprised that I got a unanimous decision,” Akano said. “Overseas judges would probably evaluate Roxanne’s striking more and could have given the fight to her, I believe. But I still think that my grappling could also have won the fight overseas. It would have been close.”
A dejected Modafferi shared a similar opinion, even though she was uncertain as to where the victory should have gone.
“I felt I was on top more and that it could have gone for me under American judging criteria, but I think she threw me more and got in good heel hook attempts, which count more in Japan,” she said. “This fight meant so much for me. I’ve been wondering if my lifestyle is good enough for a pro fighter who competes internationally at this high a level. I hope to get another chance to fight for Jewels and overseas, but I’m on a three-fight losing streak.”
Tsuji Rebounds; Ham Upsets Valkyrie Champion
Former Smackgirl and Valkyrie champion Yuka Tsuji returned to the winner’s circle with a commanding decision victory over Jewels mainstay Saori Ishioka. The “Vale Tudo Queen” showed slick, lightning-fast takedowns, followed by effortless passes to side control and North-South position, where she took her time peppering short punches to the head and body of Ishioka. Tsuji repeated this in the second frame, throwing in two armbar attempts that Ishioka narrowly escaped for good measure. As such, judges Umeki, Yamazaki and Serizawa ruled the bout for the former Smackgirl and Valkyrie titlist, giving Tsuji her first victory since her February 2010 championship loss to Mei Yamaguchi.
The woman to unseat Tsuji as Valkyrie 115-pound champion, “V.V Mei” Yamaguchi, tasted defeat herself, as she lost the striking battle with Deep and Smackgirl veteran Seo Hee Ham at Jewels 15th ring. The Korean kickboxing champ put together one-twos and low kicks that put her shorter opponent on the defensive, circling away to look for her openings for clinches or takedowns. The opportunities were few and far between, however, and whenever Yamaguchi managed to get it to the floor -- be it for submission attempts or just to take top position -- Ham either defended or reversed to drop blistering punches and hammerfists of her own. Ham thus took deserving nods from judges Yamazaki, Umeki and Serizawa.
Yamanaka Topples Mongolian Wrecking Machine Esui; Takabayashi Tops Haga
Fomer Smackgirl open weight champion Hiroko Yamanaka punished Mongolian import Bolormaa “Esui” Erdenebileg with crisp punches before putting her out of her misery with a second-round armbar. Perhaps showing the vast differences in their training and choice of coaches, the Kuniyoshi Hironaka-trained Yamanaka plunked Erdenebileg with sharp combinations, while Tatsuya Iwasaki’s neo-karate influence saw “Esui” settle into stances and wing shots that rarely connected or registered on her opponent. Proving her superiority on the feet, the former dominatrix punctuated her dominance by locking on a tap-inducing armbar at 2:20 into the second frame.
Elsewhere, Kyoko Takabayashi took Celine Haga to the final bell, earning a unanimous decision. Haga, like her coach, Joachim Hansen, showed impressive power in her punches, stumbling Takabayashi early with right hands. Also in similar fashion, her defensive grappling was her primary liability, as Takabayashi took her down and controlled on top, hammering with punches from side control and mount throughout their 10-minute tussle. The Norwegian shelled up and defended well, even catching Takabayashi’s back late in the second frame in a surprising reversal, but she still lost in the eyes of judges Serizawa, Wada and Yamazaki due to the Osaka native’s commanding control.
Meanwhile, Kikuyo Ishikawa played the perfect sprawl-and-brawl game on Sachiko Yamamoto, stuffing takedowns to rack up high kicks and punches to the body for the inevitable decision from judges Wada, Yamazaki and Umeki.
Finally, Miyoko Kusaka’s superior grappling helped her tip the scales in her favor against Yuka Okumura, who -- after spending two rounds on her back, eating punches and fending off armbars --almost put away Kusaka with punches late. Saved by the bell, Kusaka collected a decision from judges Umeki, Yamazaki and Wada.