The last time that MMA fans got to see Kana Watanabe inside an MMA enclosure was in her Bellator debut opposite Ilara Joanne. The former Judo sensation would end up taking home what was her ninth career victory. Since that encounter on December 28, 2019, we have yet to see Watanabe return to action.
Beginning her MMA journey at the end of 2017, the Japanese flyweight competitor has been a terror for everyone that’s stood across from her whether it be in the ring or cage. 10 fights later and Watanabe finds herself unbeaten with a 9-0-1 record and has managed to compete at a high frequency. Unfortunately, that nice sustained pacing came to an obvious halt in 2020.
However, it wasn’t all bad as there were some positive ways to look at the break, and different ways to improve were recognized by the Tokyo native. Even now that MMA has started back up again, Watanabe has struggled to find opponents to square off with in her usual stomping grounds of RIZIN or Deep Jewels.
“Because I’ve been fighting frequently this whole period of not being able to get fights definitely has been frustrating,” Watanabe shared with MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN, “I really want to fight but it is what it is, you’ve got to deal with the entire situation. I’ve tried to take this period in a very positive way. And since I’ve been fighting so frequently, all my training has been towards a fight. It’s been fight camps, right? So I like to use this opportunity to actually work on my skills, work on myself, and raise my basics. That’s how I’ve been spending my time with my practice. Instead of training for a fight, I’ve been training to raise my base. So that’s a very good thing.”
Fighting as part of the big Bellator vs. RIZIN year-end extravaganza, Watanabe’s last time out left a great impression on a new audience by defeating the aforementioned Joanne via third-round TKO. An opponent that she believes was her toughest yet.
Perhaps it set the tone for what could potentially come down the road as Watanabe aims to become a world titleholder. Something she can’t physically become in either RIZIN or Deep Jewels at the moment due to their lack of flyweight championships.
“I was very grateful to be given this opportunity and I didn’t want to let the people down who worked hard to get me this opportunity,” she expressed regarding her Bellator debut, “In the fight, I definitely discovered some holes in my game. I definitely need to work on my skills. I was actually feeling very overwhelmed by her striking in the first round. But overall I’m very happy to be able to get that finish and I was able to show my strong points and get the finish. So I think I got some people to remember my name, for sure.
“Yeah, absolutely [I’d like to fight in Bellator again]. I would definitely like to get in there and see what I can do and I’m pretty confident I can do pretty well in that division.”
In the end, the Judoka’s hard work has paid off in more ways than one, and the rigors of her original sport will forever be ingrained in her. Whatever comes next, we’ll surely see a more refined Watanabe as she’s only honed her overall game to add to her exemplary Judo base.
Until the world starts to get back to some normalcy, who knows how likely it could be that we see Watanabe make a chase toward Bellator supremacy. In the meantime, she isn’t entirely out of options in Japan as former UFC bantamweight, Rin Nakai, continues to mention the possible matchup between the two. It’s just a matter of things coming together at this point.
“That’s a pretty hard question,” Watanabe started, “If the timing is right, I think the [Nakai] fight could happen. But my No. 1 motivation right now is to face international competition. So that’s a priority to me.”