Forget Lashley-Sapp: Matsumoto Was the Real Star of the Weekend

By: Jordan Breen
Jun 29, 2009
Physically, it was one third the size of the Bobby Lashley-Bob Sapp bout Saturday in Biloxi, but this weekend's real marquee bout unfolded Sunday in the unlikely city of Toyama, Japan.

In a locale more famous for cadmium poisoning than prizefighting, hometown favorite and Deep 106-pound champion Miku Matsumoto avenged the last outstanding loss of her career by dominating American Lisa Ward en route to a third-round submission victory at Deep's "Toyama Impact" at the Toyama Techno Hall.

The undisputed top two 106-pounders in the world, Ward and Matsumoto met for the first time in September 2006 under the Smackgirl banner, where Ward dominated the "Supernova" and locked up a scarf-hold armlock in the first round. Since that bout, however, Ward struggled to secure fights at her ideal fighting weight, often fighting at 115 pounds or above. Meanwhile, Matsumoto became one of MMA's most improved fighters -- male or female -- as she ripped off 10 straight wins, the only decision in that span coming in her August 2007 Deep title win over star Hisae Watanabe. Already one of Japan's best female grapplers, Matsumoto added to her stand-up repertoire with a host of wins in the Shoot Boxing ring, paving the way for her recent brutalizations over Misaki Takimoto and Nicdali Calanoc.

Matsumoto put all facets of her improvement on display in front of her hometown crowd. Though the first round was marked by Matsumoto's active and aggressive grappling, it was the Club Barbarian product's body attack that made the difference once again. Having previously destroyed the aforementioned Takimoto and Calanoc with body blows, Matsumoto focused on Ward's midsection from the second round forward, attacking with punches, kicks, knees and even stomps to the body.

The eight-minute body assault took its toll on the two-time FILA world grappling champion. After taking the mount halfway through the third round, Matsumoto sealed the second defense of her Deep title with a mounted armbar, a la Pat Miletich on John Alessio.

An 11th straight win comes as a gift of sorts for Matsumoto, who turned 28 last Friday. Remarkably, she was involved in a cycling accident two and a half weeks ago in which she injured her left hip flexors, reducing her to just light swimming for her final fight preparations.

However, the win also puts Matsumoto in a difficult professional circumstance. Having so thoroughly dispatched the only other woman of her caliber within her weight class, the 106-pound division seems to hold little competitive charm for her. The only viable opponent in the division is former Smackgirl 106-pound and current Deep 99-pound champion Satoko Shinashi. However, while Shinashi is one of women's MMA's larger stars, she is due to deliver her first child next month, and doesn't anticipate returning to action until December. More pertinently, it's unlikely she would even be able to hold the ring with Matsumoto at this point.

Thus, Matsumoto may be bound for the greener pastures of the 115-pound division, which houses fellow pound-for-pound all-stars Yuka Tsuji and Megumi Fujii, who was in Toyama and celebrated in the ring with Matsumoto after the bout. The Japanese media, as well as Deep boss Shigeru Saeki, have already began hinting at the possibility of a Matsumoto-Fujii showdown. However, the pair consider themselves friends, and though two female standouts putting friendship aside would be nothing new -- teammates Yuka Tsuji and Maiko Okada once contested Smackgirl's 115-pound title, training to fight one another just feet away in the same gym -- they would likely prefer marquee matchups that don't involve facing each other.

There may not be a neat and tidy promotional solution for her. Fortunately, the ever-emergent world of women's MMA is much richer for having Miku Matsumoto, whatever direction she may head.

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