Matsumoto (Pictures) a woman on a mission or a woman
who just really loves what she does? Maybe she’s both.
As the women’s lightweight champion in Deep, Matsumoto has achieved
a surprising level of success in a few short years. This is
especially astonishing when one considers the fact that most
Japanese women with an interest in fisticuffs tend to hold down
jobs outside of fighting professionally, leaving mixed martial arts
as little more than a time-consuming hobby.
“I definitely can’t think of this as a hobby,” Matsumoto says.
“Though I always say this, mixed martial arts is too demanding to
be just a hobby. I think I’m able to do this because I feel that
I’m a professional and that I have responsibilities as a
professional. Martial arts is my priority.”
With that said, Matsumoto has not forsaken life beyond fighting.
She does make the distinction between her career and her life away
“I want to be the best in the world,” she says. “I want to defeat
all of the strong fighters and become number one. For my goals in
life, however, they are completely different. I want to have a
Matsumoto (17-4) has built a respectable resume of fight experience
against some of female MMA’s most notable standouts since she first
appeared in late 2004. Since Matsumoto’s debut in Greatest Common
Multiple’s Cross Section, she has fought almost every two months on
average -- a pace many professional fighters today would find
difficult to keep.
“It is for me to become stronger,” Matsumoto says. “I also think
it’s because it’s fun.”
Matsumoto’s passion and persistence at keeping such a rigorous
fight schedule has paid off, as 21 fights into her career, she
finds herself the queen of the hill in Deep. In capturing the
title, Matsumoto defied popular expectation by defeating dangerous
kickboxer turned MMA champion Hisae
Watanabe (Pictures) in August 2007. Matsumoto
impressed in that bout, alternating between dominating Watanabe on
the canvas and, most surprisingly, banging her out on the feet.
“I forgot how I really felt at the time, but I think that my
performance went as I had imagined,” Matsumoto says. “However, I
was able to do more than I thought I could in the striking
department. I believe that I defeated Watanabe-san in striking, so
after that match, I have become more confident in my stand-up
That’s no small claim, considering Watanabe has been looked upon as
one of female MMA’s sharpest shooters, responsible for the
wholesale destruction of many women who have had the fortune -- or
misfortune -- of stepping into the ring with her.
After capturing the title, Matsumoto resumed business as usual and
wasted little time celebrating. Within the next four months, she
stepped back into the ring to win three non-title affairs, all by
first-round submission. While she has not competed in MMA this
year, she has managed to stay sharp.
“Since the beginning of this year, I have competed in amateur
Karate, amateur grappling, and recently, I have been fighting under
kickboxing rules,” Matsumoto says. “As a mixed martial artist, I
think these are all very good for experience.”
Be that as it may, the question still remains as to why Matsumoto
maintains such a hectic schedule. With the sudden retirement of the
aforementioned Watanabe, one might think the busy Matsumoto were
trying to get in a whole career of experience before calling it
quits. However, Matsumoto does not appear to see retirement on the
“I don’t know how long I want to continue fighting, but I feel that
I can still continue now,” she says. “I think I will be doing this
for two or three more years, but I really don’t know. That ‘time to
retire’ will probably come to me suddenly, because I believe that
fighting and doing martial arts requires you to have the mentality
and urge to do it. I think the time to retire is when that feeling
Watanabe’s retirement caught Matsumoto off guard.
“I was shocked when I heard about Watanabe-san’s retirement,
because I wanted to challenge her again and put a definite end to
our fight,” she says. “It’s unfortunate, but I guess there’s
nothing I can do about it.”
While meeting Watanabe in the ring one last time looks unlikely,
Matsumoto continues to carve out an indelible position in the
sport. She will defend her title for the first time at Deep 37
Impact on Sunday at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo when she meets rival
Takimoto (Pictures) -- a regular on the female MMA
scene in Japan and a woman with whom Matsumoto has a history.
Matsumoto dropped her second and ninth fights to Takimoto, as the
Zendokai representative became somewhat of a nemesis. She remains
the only woman to defeat Matsumoto twice.
“It is like fate has decided that she be my rival,” Matsumoto says.
“The first and second time I fought her, since I experienced
difficulty in dealing with her, it affected me mentally quite a
bit. After I managed to beat her in the third fight, that feeling
of difficulty has disappeared.”
Indeed, in their third encounter, Matsumoto served Takimoto a bit
of her own medicine, as she turned the tables and put her away with
a first-round armbar.
“For our fourth encounter, the mental pressure that was on me for
the fights before has gone, so I think I will be able to take her
on at full speed,” Matsumoto says. “Since Takimoto-san declared
that she would win by knockout, I will say that right back to her.
Last time, I finished her by submitting her, so I will win by
knocking her out this time.”
While this weekend’s Matsumoto-Takimoto title bout is intriguing,
there is perhaps a larger issue that overshadows their fight -- the
future of female mixed martial arts in Japan. As the only other
promotion outside the all-female Smackgirl to consistently showcase
women’s MMA, Deep could become the new Mecca of female fighting in
Japan should rumors of Smackgirl’s demise prove true.
“By not having a women’s MMA show, it is unfortunate for fighters
who have until now been successful in Smackgirl,” Matsumoto says.
“It is also unfortunate for female fighters who have just started
MMA to lose their chance to fight. I hope with that there will be
more female fighters who will aspire to fight in Deep.”
As MMA grew in popularity in the West, female mixed martial arts
was slow to follow. The efforts of EliteXC -- which has showcased
women’s MMA on CBS -- have changed the landscape of combat sports
in America. Developments in the United States have not gone
unnoticed by Matsumoto.
“I would like to fight in the U.S. if there is an opportunity,” she
says. “Plus, I also just want to go to U.S. I think there are many
strong fighters out there, so I would like to just go to watch them
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