Megumi Fujii | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Before ending up on the losing end of a split decision to Zoila Frausto in the final round of Bellator’s 115-pound women’s tournament, Megumi Fujii was owner to one of the most impressive undefeated records in MMA. While she’ll tell you that she’s dealt with losses in previous athletic pursuits like judo, sambo, and submission grappling, since her August 2004 MMA debut, Fujii had never dealt with a loss in the way that most fighters in our sport inevitably have to.
She’s had a difficult time coming to terms with her October loss and trying to place existential significance on it. Before it, Fujii was one of Japan’s staunchest supporters of women’s MMA, using her record and international recognition within the sport as leverage to push local promoters into changing paternally protective rules and paying higher purses for female fighters.
While she’s still fervent in supporting women’s MMA in Japan, she admits that a bit of that leverage and appeal is gone now.
“I was shocked when I heard the decision. I thought I'd won my 23rd straight victory, and would continue winning more from there on, getting people to pay attention to women's MMA and broaden opportunities for women in the sport back home,” she says.
“Before this, I always wanted to do things that male mixed martial artists hadn’t been able to and to be recognized for them. That’s something that I think would inspire other women to come to MMA.”
Conceding that it was likely a difficult decision for judges to render, Fujii is nonetheless adamant that the results of her encounter with Frausto should have been different. Though she holds admiration for Frausto as an athlete with heart and great strength, Fujii asserts she was the one that pushed the action in their fight, scored the most significant damage on the feet.
In spite of Frausto’s natural weight advantage and big swinging punches, Fujii also believes she evaded enough punches to counter and win rounds, citing the damage she delivered in swelling Frausto’s left eye, lips, and nose. She admits in retrospect however that she should have been more proactive in pursuing the takedown, which most onlookers expected from her that evening.
“I was told that Zoila's strength was striking, and until that point, people told me that my own striking wasn't good. I wanted to test my striking against a good striker,” says Fujii. “I connected far more than I anticipated, so I got carried away in it that I kept striking.
“There was Vaseline on my gloves too, so I figured I couldn't get a good grip for grappling. When we did clinch in the end however, even though she was bigger, I was surprised that she wasn't as strong in the clinch as I'd expected and that I could grip her alright,” Fujii confesses. “In the end, I think I went by my own discretion a little too much. But, I still don’t regret fighting the way I did.”
The lesson Fujii takes away is an unfortunate one, however. In line with the platitude that certain authority figures in the sport have relied upon to explain away unpopular decisions rather than take issue with judges and their inconsistency, Fujii has vowed to finish fights.
It’s an odd place to be for the former undefeated dynamo of women’s MMA. Fujii will claim otherwise, but it’s obvious she’s still in turmoil from the loss. But, she is still the smiling, ebullient role model of women’s MMA in Japan, diligently training alongside her charges at the Abe Ani Combat Club, warmly offering technical and life advice to her cadre of students. It’s difficult to imagine that just half a year ago, she was seriously broaching the notion of retirement.
“I’m injured and not as healthy as I was before, but I’m very motivated and want to keep fighting. So long as you have the will and motivation, the possibilities are endless. I want to fight for a long time. MMA is my life,” she admits.
She laments the end of her stellar unbeaten streak, but the loss could not have come at a better time. Since returning to Japan, Fujii has taken time off to reflect and heal the injuries accrued over the course of the tournament, ultimately setting an even more ambitious goal for the future: a larger undefeated streak than her previous twenty-two straight wins. She giggles charmingly at the hope of eventually making it into the Guinness Book of World Records for such a feat, but in a serious moment, tabs the woman that defeated her, Bellator 115-pound champion Zoila Frausto, as the first name she wants to notch en route to twenty-three plus consecutive wins.
“[Rematching Frausto] anytime would be fine, but I think it would be better if we were to do it sooner. She’s very big for 115 pounds and it’s hard for her to lose the weight because the cut is drastic. For the sake of her health, I think it’d be better if we could do it sooner than later,” says Fujii.
The road to the Frausto rematch will begin with stalwart Valkyrie veteran Emi Fujino whom Fujii will meet at Sengoku “Soul of Fight” on Dec. 30.
Fujii's run in an international promotion like Bellator has coincidentally boosted her stature in her home country. She not only has a fight in the second largest promotion in Japan, but on its most important card of the year. It's an opportunity she's grateful for, but it continues to reflect the paternal state of women's MMA in Japan and how vital success abroad is for any female fighter to maintain a fruitful MMA career.
"I see Fujino as a very powerful fighter. Her striking is great, though she originally started out as a grappler long ago. She's really a total fighter, capable of everything. But, I plan to play to my strengths as always and submit her anyway," said Fujii.
With hopes to continue fighting primarily in the United States and in Japan during Bellator’s offseason, Fujii finds herself continuing the work she endeavored in for the past six years -- literally putting women on the map for the Japanese MMA world. The contentious loss to Frausto may have taken away some shine on Fujii’s name, but it’s also given her a new lease on life in MMA.