By the time Bellator MMA brought Megumi Fujii over to the United States in 2010, she was 36 years old and had been the most dominant woman in the sport for several years. Nonetheless, aside from a couple of one-off forays into the U.S. and Canada, it was her first exposure to the average North American fan. Aside from Strikeforce—whose president, Scott Coker, would be at the helm of Bellator in a few years—there had simply never been a major Western promotion to feature female fighters to the extent of creating full-fledged divisions, let alone at 115 pounds.
Fujii’s promotional debut, a 120-pound catchweight match against Sarah Schneider at Bellator 21 in June, had ended in a TKO after two and a half rounds of ground-and-pound from “Mega Megu.” With that out of the way, she entered the eight-woman tournament to crown Bellator’s inaugural strawweight champion as the odds-on favorite. At Bellator 24, on August 12, 2010, Fujii was scheduled to face Angela Magana in the quarterfinals, but when Magana withdrew just a few weeks out, she was replaced by the little-known Carla Esparza.
“Cookie Monster” was at that point still several years away from becoming the first Ultimate Fighting Championship strawweight champ—indeed, UFC President Dana White was still vocal in his claim that women would never fight in the Octagon—and as a very green 23-year-old with a 3-0 record, figured to be completely out of her depth against the 20-0 Fujii. That Fujii had closed as “only” an 8-to-1 favorite was mildly surprising.
However, the fight was fairly competitive, at least for a round. Despite Esparza being one of the few Fujii foes of similar size, her athleticism and wrestling background gave Fujii considerable difficulty in securing takedowns. While Fujii finally managed to get the fight to the ground in the closing minute of the first round, she did not manage to do much with the position.
The second round, however, was vintage Fujii. She shot for a takedown almost immediately and in the ensuing scramble, threatened with a leg lock. When Esparza defended, Fujii executed a lightning-quick back take and applied an armbar for the finish in just 57 seconds. “Mega Megu” had punched her ticket to the semifinals.