I am often asked why I don’t often cover female mixed martial arts competition. In truth my relationship with WMMA is one of cautious enthusiasm. In part it is because the standard just isn’t as high across the board. Men’s MMA has been around long enough, and is finally providing pay days significant enough, that we are actually starting to see individuals with great striking, great wrestling, and great jiu jitsu. A lot of WMMA, outside of the really top tier fighters, is still “grappler” versus “striker” rather than consummate mixed martial artists.

That being said, there are a great many female fighters who have learnt the best martial art for women’s self defense not just to protect themselves but also to turn that skill into a form of a profession which will help them earn money. There are a few women whom I have followed and admired for their technical brilliance and many of them have been selected to compete in the UFC’s upcoming women’s straw-weight division. Vicious, technical strikers like Joanne Calderwood, Holly Holm and Tecia Torres.

A beautiful side kick from someone who is considered a boxer.

But before that, I watched my fair share of poorly filmed Megumi Fujii fights from Japan when WMMA wasn’t really a big deal at all. Fujii’s first streak of 22-0 and her nineteen submission wins in twenty-six total wins should reflect just what kind of a grappling demon she was. Training with Josh Barnett, she steam-rolled through her division with toe holds, heel hooks and armbars.
Toe holds, they’re the bees knees.

You see, if two well matched, skilled fighters meet in a fair contest, I want to watch that regardless of gender.

And let’s not forget Hisae Watanabe, my favorite!

But the main reason for my wariness is that so much of the moving and shaking in WMMA takes place outside of the confines of the relatively above board, visible UFC women’s bantamweight division—which boasts just thirty fighters. That is why I keep seeing horrendous news like this.

Ye Jin Jung is a sixteen year old girl (well, today is her sixteenth birthday) who made her          professional mixed martial arts debut on Sunday against 29-2 Satoko Shinashi. Shinashi is not just a thirty-one fight veteran, she was once ranked number one in the world and even stopped the incredible Hisae Watanabe. Shinashi went on hiatus in 2008, but as tune ups go, this one was overkill.

Shinashi submitting the aforementioned Watanabe.

Shinashi stopped Jung by TKO, two minutes into the first round. If you’re still giving the promoter the benefit of the doubt, consider that this was the first (T)KO win of Shinashi’s lengthy career. That’s like Jake Shields kickboxing the brakes off of someone—if he could do it, they probably had no business being in there with him.

Meanwhile, Real Fight Championship announced yesterday that they have signed Kron Gracie and Gabi Garcia for their MMA debuts. This is great news for anyone who follows competitive jiu jitsu, both Gracie and Garcia are awesome grapplers who have been talking about stepping into the cage for a long while. Gracie does not yet have an opponent, but Garcia is slated to face Megumi Yabushita.

Yabushita, unlike poor Ye Jin Jung, has experience to spare. She’s been in with some huge names in WMMA including Rin Nakai, Sarah Kaufmann and Marloes Coenen. It doesn’t matter so much that she’s on a six fight losing streak, this is Garcia’s debut after all. It doesn’t even matter that she’s forty-two years old and hasn’t fought in over a year. The elephant in the room is that Gabi Garcia will be cutting weight to come in at a trim 205lbs. Yabushita fights at 135lbs.

Well, how many quality fighters are out there at women’s heavyweight? It doesn’t matter. It’s Garcia’s debut. No-one is expecting her to fight anyone good, and with her grappling accomplishments she should be crushing anyone she meets in her first fight anyway. But it would be nice if Real Fight Championship would make even an attempt at signing a legitimate fight.

Pretty much the only thing which could save Real Fight Championship’s face in my eyes would be if they announced that the press release had gone out with a typo, and Yabushita’s younger, heavyweight sister is going to be fighting Garcia. Unfortunately, that won’t happen, and this obvious mismatch will likely go ahead.

Now what you’re probably saying to yourself is “only in Japan…” with various tutting noises and eye rolls. But while it’s not as blatant, and borderline criminal, as what is happening in the Garcia-Yabushita match up, much more established MMA promotions have made matchmaking decisions almost as shady to push their WMMA stars.

The most glaring example, which was extremely disappointing for me as a fan of the promotion, was Invicta’s matchmaking for Michelle Waterson’s last fight.  On any day, Waterson is truly something to behold and I have been a fan for some time; lighting fast on the feet and getting wilier on the ground. If you haven’t seen her war with Jessica Penne for the Invicta atomweight title, you need to get on Fight Pass now and catch up.

Spoiler alert!

But Waterson’s last fight was a showcase match, plain and simple. Waterson, 12-3, undefeated since 2010, defended her title against Yasuke Tamada, who had gone 3-4 in her last seven. Tamada has a respectable record overall, but when this fight was signed she hadn’t fought in a year and had turned forty-seven years old. If you are getting a fighter who is forty-seven years old, inactive, and unknown by your fanbase in to fight your champion, you’re probably doing something shady.


Waterson beat Tamada from pillar to post, as expected, and put forward the first truly dominating performance of her Invicta career.

Has Waterson got that much better since she had competitive, back and forth fights with Lacey Schuckman and Jessica Penne? Maybe. Perhaps, it’s unfair to judge Tamada on her recent record and advanced age as an athlete but there’s a reason why Invicta switched out the age for just one of their pre-fight graphics that evening.

There’s a few other highly regarded atomweights out there. There’s the twenty seven year old Seo Hee Ham, and the 10-1 Ayaka Hamasaki who is thirty-two. Yes, they’re active in the Asian MMA scene rather than the North American one, but that’s where Invicta had to go to find Tamada.

This isn’t like Bellator trying to find light heavyweights in a world dominated by the UFC; Invicta aren’t limited to UFC cast offs. They’re the biggest promotion in Women’s MMA, if they could fly Tamada over and give her a respectable pay day, I’m sure they could have gotten an opponent who looked less like an obvious and immoral gimme match.

And that, more than anything, is why I’m so cautious in my excitement for women’s MMA, and why I want more women’s divisions in the UFC.

Does favorable matchmaking cease existing in the UFC? Of course not. Look at all the discussion around Conor McGregor’s wrestler-free path to the title. There was even talk about having Gina Carano come back from retirement and straight into a painful mismatch with Ronda Rousey.  But at least with all the top contenders in a division under one roof, fans will know exactly what is going on. They will see how the careers are developing, and if Ronda Rousey were suddenly fighting a forty-seven year old, there would be uproar. It might still happen… but at least the fans would know how outraged they should be.

I hope that most MMA fans would watch Michelle Waterson, Gabi Garcia and Satoko Shinashi fight most of the time regardless. But if my readers are anything like me, obviously exploitative match-making is the one thing guaranteed to make them lose interest.

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