Over the past two decades, any 115-pound strawweight hopeful rising through the ranks in Asia has likely encountered Emi Fujino — whether in passing, as an opponent, or some other MMA-related variation.
Fujino, 40, currently holds a record of 25-11 and 1 no contest dating back to her professional MMA debut in March 2004. Including amateur MMA, Shootboxing, and grappling matches, Fujino has well over 40 bouts under her belt thus making her one of the most experienced women in MMA history.
“I consider my life being around this business, this sport,” Fujino told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN. “When you ask me ‘what is my hobby,’ my hobby is fighting. So anything outside of fighting and my regular day job, I rest and I’m involved with the sport and I’m working. It’s very hard to say what I do outside with my free time.”
Combat for many becomes an addiction over time and Fujino isn’t unsusceptible of falling under the spell — quite the opposite.
Out of her 37 MMA opponents to this point, many a prospect, champion, and legend can be seen throughout the resume. While animosity has appeared hard to come by on the surface in the Japanese MMA scene — specifically between the women — it hasn’t meant that rivalries can’t exist.
“I don’t think it’s hard to create rivals,” Fujino said. “The reason why is that when you’re in the sport from the beginning, just because of the lack of talent or the lack of participants in this sport, you start to develop a relationship with the ones who are in the sport. It’s hard to ignore them when you’re in the sport because there’s so very few of us and it’s hard to avoid each other. You’re always there, you’re always seeing each other, always talking. So it’s natural for any kind of friendly relationship to develop.
“For me, I think that I fight for a job — this is my job. My job and my personal relationship, I think it’s a totally different thing. So being friendly with another female fighter doesn’t mean that I don’t feel she’s a rival. I don’t feel that fighting is not an option. It’s just two totally different things. Just because we’re friendly in private doesn’t mean that I won’t fight them. That’s just how I take it.”
“The Kamikaze Angel” is born. Hailing from Aichi Prefecture and stepping into the Smackgirl ring as a professional after seven amateur bouts, the MMA adventure was just one that began out of necessity for fitness and exercise — it was just too much fun not to commit. One of Smackgirl’s promotors created the nickname ahead of the debut tilt with Seri Saito.
As they say, the rest is history.
“I think the promotor just saw my style where I would go in there and give it all — just go straight forward, right?” Fujino pondered.
Saito suffered defeat via unanimous decision and seven more victories would follow a triumphant start to this MMA thing that ultimately became a lifestyle. By the ninth fight, fresh off a victory over “V.V” Mei Yamaguchi, the then 32-fight veteran Megumi Yabushita was presented as an obstacle.
The first of a consecutive bunch of learning lessons led to the biggest of them all.
A groundbreaking competitor, Megumi Fujii had recently lossed for the first time in her 23-fight career. It wasn’t the original plan, but an unavoidable opportunity — one that paid off in perhaps a larger way than a win may have.
“When I fought Fujii, it was a very last-minute fight,” Fujino reflected. “She was supposed to fight somebody else and I guess that opponent fell off and the offer came to me. At the time, I fought Fujii-san in December, but I also fought in October and November. And I got this very short notice fight against Fujii-san and everybody around me told me not to take the fight. Once a month was just way too much against the best pound-for-pound at the time. But for me, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to fight the best pound-for-pound woman in the world.
“So obviously, I fought her. I went in there with a lack of preparation. But my mindset was that I was going to fight as myself. No gameplans, I was just going to bring myself and see how I would be able to hang against the world’s best. I just wanted to know how I would perform against the best in the world. And it was just out of curiosity.
“Obviously, I went in there to win, I didn’t want to lose. But I enjoyed it,” she continued. “Up until fighting Megumi, I was always scared. I got nervous before fighting. But for this fight for the first time in my career, I was excited to step in there, I was excited to compete. Ever since that fight, I’ve learned how to enjoy the time before stepping into the ring or cage. I’m more excited about the anticipation of what would happen if I went in there against this tough opponent. Since then, my mentality has changed a bit.”
It’s difficult to compete at a high level in any sport after so many years — especially upon reaching those “older” years past 35. When consumed so heavily by the sport — what becomes a way of life — it’s no wonder it’s so often that competitors are seen hanging on for as long as they can.
No matter the result.
“I just love what I do,” Fujino said. “There’s so much to learn — there’s still so much to learn. I think this is about not knowing. Every day you realize something. Every day you learn something, and it’s a never-ending process. When you’re in this as long as I am, there are many other fighters who pop up who you respect and who you want to fight and see what’s going to happen if you fight this certain fighter. So it’s just a loop of a never-ending thing and it’s just so hard for me to quit because I enjoy it so much. I can’t really figure out when and how I can quit.
“With that being said, I think it’s amazing that Fujii-san was able to call it. Because right now, I’m absolutely stuck and I have no idea when I should even quit.”
From one turning point to the next, by this point the name value in opponents wasn’t getting any lower. After Fujii was a strong lineup consisting of Celine Haga, Mika Nagano, Ayaka Hamasaki, and Amber Brown — the last of the four coming in Pancrase where a mark would eventually be left.
The all-women Deep Jewels promotion began directly after this and helping kick things off strongly were several of the world’s best and future bright stars. Battles with Mizuki Inoue, Ayaka Miura, and Emi Tomimatsu stand out — with a trip to the US mixed in when challenging No. 1 ranked Jessica Aguilar.
Even though the Aguilar fight was a showdown with a champion, it was a future champion that was met two years later who left a lasting impression.
“It’s really tough because I think all fights are memorable for me,” Fujino said. “But if I had to name a few, obviously, the ones I remember most are the ones I lost. So my most recent one would be my Pancrase title [defeat] when I fought Viviane Araujo. That was a tough one. Then when I fought Zhang Weili in Kunlun. Those two fights were like an absolute one-sided fight so… I would consider those two the ones I remember most.
“In terms of the Zhang Weili fight, there was something I do remember quite clearly. I knew that she was practicing her elbows. She was working on her elbows before the fight and I knew that she was working on them. But at the time, elbow strikes to the face in women’s MMA — there wasn’t anybody who utilized them in the fight. I honestly didn’t think that elbows were effective or would come in use in an MMA fight. And I went in there with that mentality.
“The first round I was okay, but I took two elbows to the face in the second round and lost via TKO,” she continued. “So just by experiencing it first hand, experiencing a female fighter who can utilize elbows during the fight with such efficiency and effectiveness, I knew that she was only going to get better from there. And I do remember that clearly.”
The Pancrase crown couldn’t be obtained on the first attempt but it wasn’t the last. Persisting forward with back-to-back wins to get another title shot paid off.
Pancrase 311 saw the strawweights headline. For Korea’s Hyun Ji Jang, a third-round rear-naked choke would be her demise. The last fight came with the biggest reward in the form of a world title — age is just a number.
“I was very happy,” Fujino said of winning the Pancrase championship. “My sincere emotions would be that I was glad I continued this far, I’m glad I followed through.”
The celebration in the cage was a perfect display of the long journey’s culmination. Friends and rivals alike helped make the moment what it was as the aforementioned Tomimatsu and Miura along with Mina Kurobe, Shizuka Sugiyama, and many others cheered.
2020 was the first year since 2005 where there was no participation in an MMA fight. Obviously, the global pandemic played a big part, but so did wear and tear.
Knee surgery was successfully performed toward the end of the year and now it’s just a waiting game for that first title defense. However, it’s become apparent that things going forward won’t be the same.
“As a matter of fact, I don’t really feel it’s gotten better,” Fujino said of her knee. “It has actually limited my mobility and the things I can do. So I’m not going to say it’s gotten any better, but I’m dealing with it and learning to work with it. You never know what’s going to happen so I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to last but I’m always ready to fight whenever there’s an opportunity.”
Even as a queen of Pancrase in the twilight of the MMA adventure, with nearly more fights than anyone else, the largest goal remains in sight.
“Obviously, I did have a big desire to fight in North America,” Fujino shared. “The final goal would be to get that UFC contract. I had some people work to try and make that happen — they tried to build the rails for me to get to the UFC. The first step would have been fighting for Invicta and getting that belt but there’s just so many aspects that came to it. Maybe it’s my record, maybe it’s some other things so it didn’t happen. But yeah, the desire is still there.
“I want to be a fighter when people look back, they remember Emi Fujino and they remember my performance as a fighter. Also, I do want to become a fighter where people would want to stop me from retiring because they want to see more of me. That’s the fighter I want to become before I retire.”
Drake is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women’s fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, WhatCulture, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at YouTube.com/DrakeRiggs where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.