Sometimes in life, it just takes one little push in a certain direction to alter the course entirely.
Knowing that your child is in distress, whether mentally or physically, isn’t at all a parent’s favorite feeling. And unfortunately, as kids grow up, they become more and more of open targets for… well, life to take action.
Being the active little balls of energy that they are, it’s normal for children to partake in sporting activities to get some of that energy out. While that is a guarantee with all the various exercises, some have potentially greater values than others. Take the discipline of wrestling for a prime example.
Taught in schools around the world, wrestling is one of the more demanding activities that a kid could choose to be in out of the numerous options. But because of it’s lasting values, it’s more than just an energy burner. In multiple cases, that leads parents to put their children into wrestling at an early age for self-defense purposes.
And wouldn’t you know it, that can, in turn, lead to becoming a professional face puncher.
“Throughout all my years of competing, I have always hated wrestling practice,” Ai Shimizu told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN. “It’s the most grueling and toughest practice there is. Even to this day, I’ve never enjoyed it. So obviously as a child, I did not like going to practice.”
From an early age, Tokyo’s Ai Shimizu began her journey into combat sports as a wrestler. Working day in and day out, she would rise to prominence and stumble her way into the MMA world and become one of the world’s best atomweight prospects.
Undefeated with a 5-0 record, the 31-year old Shimizu never intended to get into the sport of Mixed Martial Arts despite her strong wrestling background. In fact, she had no idea that MMA even existed until roughly five years ago. And just like her introduction to wrestling, her initial encounter with her calling wasn’t without some help.
To kick off her professional fight career, Shimizu did so in one of the more unique ways that any fighter could — as part of a reality TV cast.
“The reason I got into MMA was because of this reality show [Fighting Agent War]… It was kind of like The Apprentice,” Shimizu recollected. “There were four legendary fighters, they brought in their proteges, and throughout the show they kind of nurture and have them fight in a tournament. So [Norifumi] ‘Kid’ Yamamoto, he recommended me for that show when he was on. But at the time, I rejected him once. I turned down the offer but he still kept asking me. So as he was coming and asking me, I kind of thought twice about it and then I decided to take the offer and I fought on the show.
“It was very tough. I didn’t like the filming sessions, I didn’t like doing the interviews. Overall it was a hard, tough experience. Back when the reality show started, I was working as a Yoga instructor, I was much smaller and lighter than I am now. So if it wasn’t for that show, I would not be fighting as an MMA fighter.”
Rejecting the aid of a legendary figure like Kid Yamamoto is a thought that many would shake their head at. But the late, great Japanese icon had an eye for talent and a reason to persist.
As one of the Krazy Bee team’s staples, Kid would take Shimizu under his wing for her run on Fighting Agent War in 2018. To win the season, the contestants would have to outlast three different opponents as part of the tournament.
A late first-round armbar of Mizuki Ueno secured Shimizu a spot in the semifinals as well as her first career win, albeit counted as an exhibition. However, the next fight would be her undoing as the same maneuver was her downfall. 17-year old Mizuki Furuse forced the tap of Shimizu at 4:49 of the opening round. The Yamamoto protege hasn’t lost since.
In the short amount of time that’s followed, Ai Shimizu has wasted no time staying busy and bolstering her record. Four out of her five victories all came in 2019. Two of which saw her finish her opponents in Deep Jewels by both submission and TKO, with the other two being strong decisions on two of the world’s largest MMA platforms.
The “Princess Bee” saw her biggest win yet come in her last fight against the seasoned veteran, Andy Nguyen. The two went to battle in each of their Bellator MMA debuts as part of the big year-end RIZIN crossover show doubleheader. Shimizu walked away with her hand raised via split decision but has been sidelined for all of 2020 after undergoing and recovering from surgery.
For strategic purposes, she couldn’t share any details beyond that. But essentially, the injury made the win all the more important to the lifelong wrestler.
“Heading into the fight, I already knew that I had a scheduled date for my surgery,” Shimizu shared. “So I knew that I was going to be out at least six months and I wanted to leave an impression so people wouldn’t forget me for the next six months. But heading into the fight with the injury, my performance didn’t meet my expectations. I was very upset and disappointed with myself for not being able to perform the way I wanted — the way I should have. So all that emotion just kind of built up and kind of burst after the fight.
“Immediately after the fight, I was disappointed. I couldn’t really think about the bigger picture. But after the fight, many people would tell me how experienced Andy was and how accomplished, they would tell me I did a good job given the fact of my injury. And that kind of started to settle in after the fight. So I was able to be a little prouder of myself, of what I did with the given situation.”
Now for Shimizu, it’s from one big stage to the next. And it doesn’t get much bigger than this.
This New Year’s Eve, in celebration of RIZIN’s fifth anniversary, the promotion is holding RIZIN 26. Set to do battle will be Shimizu making her third appearance in their ring as she faces off with the young superstar, Kanna Asakura.
In the eyes of most, this is very likely a No. 1 contender bout to decide who challenges for the title next.
Although she is eight years younger than her opponent in Shimizu, Asakura has over double the MMA experience. Beginning her career four years earlier, Chiba’s finest has accrued a record of 17-4 and become one of Japan’s most notable names in the process — all while toting an impressive wrestling game of her own along the way.
This New Year’s Eve event will be the fifth appearance for Asakura on such a stage. She ultimately has everything in her favor when you break down the stats on paper… Undeterred, Ai Shimizu is well aware of that and chomping at the bit to play spoiler.
“I’m very excited to be able to fight on New Year’s Eve,” she started. “It’s a great feeling… but I do understand that this is not my doing. I got this opportunity because of Asakura. She’s got more accomplishments, she’s got the bigger name, everybody thinks that I am going to lose, I am going in there as an underdog. So all that motivates me to overturn everything. I want to take everything that she brought to the table and I want to humiliate all the doubters. Heading into this fight, knowing that I have the potential of messing things up big time is very exciting…
“I honestly think that she’s better than me in all aspects. So I don’t think she has too much of a gameplan, she’s just going to fight wherever the fight goes. But if I were to guess, I think she’s going to want to strike with me. Because I think that’s where she’s going to be confident.
“I think if Asakura wins, I think she deserves a title fight,” Shimizu continued. “But for me, I don’t really think it will go that way. I think there’s a lot for me to work on and I’m okay with still developing my skills with more experience. Right now, I’m not even that eager for a title shot. I want to focus on every single fight that’s given to me and wherever that takes me, I will go for it. I don’t really care about the winner getting a title shot.”
As expected, Shimizu would join the team at Krazy Bee after her run on Fighting Agent War with Yamamoto as her guide. And that wouldn’t be the only member of the famed family that she would learn from.
Like Kid, his older sister Miyuu would also end up competing as an MMA fighter after an excellent career as a wrestler. At 46-years of age, Yamamoto has truly proven that age is just a number as she’s one of the world’s best and will contest for the vacant RIZIN super atomweight title on New Year’s Eve.
During Shimizu’s time honing her craft, Yamamoto has played a large role and is like a big sister to the former Yoga instructor. Though, while each has prepared for their fights, they’ve done so apart from one another. With Yamamoto training in Guam at Spike 22 alongside her husband Kyle Aguon, Shimizu has since left the team at Krazy Bee in Japan.
“As I was setting up fight camps, as I wanted to have more efficient training, the less time I spent training at Krazy Bee preparing for my fights,” Shimizu detailed. “It was just how my fight camp was set up, I would spend less and less time at Krazy Bee. And I just kind of felt like it’s disrespectful to represent the name when I’m not training there too much. So we had a sit down with Ikuei, Kid Yamamoto’s father, and I explained my thoughts and feelings and we just decided to part ways in a way. Because I’m not spending too much time there anymore. So I just felt that for me, the training environment was outside of Krazy Bee. So I just couldn’t use their name anymore in respect to the brand.”
In preparation for the pivotal bout with Asakura, Shimizu has put her time in at the Abe Ani Combat Club (AACC) where she’s done some training since her debut. AACC is most known for housing many of Japan’s top athletes, such as two of the sport’s all-time greats, Megumi Fujii, and Yamamoto’s opponent at RIZIN 26, Ayaka Hamasaki.
Outside of that, the wrestling-based Shimizu has gone to kickboxing and boxing specific gyms to sharpen that area of her arsenal. Therefore leading her to get some work in with and around RIZIN bantamweight champion Kai Asakura.
It may not at all have been what Ai Shimizu imagined for herself in the long run, but she’s proven to be one hell of a fighter. And considering the track she’s on now, it would appear that the nudgings helped get this train rolling full steam ahead.
RIZIN 26 starts at 9:00 PM PST on December 30 and will be broadcast live in English here at the: link.
BROADENED HORIZIN EP. 6 AUDIO ONLY BELOW:
以下の日本語版 (JAPANESE VERSION BELOW):
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.