While there have been many different types of setbacks in this wild year of 2020, MMA for the most part has continued forth. Whether it be the UFC and their neverending schedule, or Bellator’s shuffling of the deck and improvements to the roster. Well, for the latter promotion, they’ve kept at it in the final months of the year.
To close out 2019 and head into the new year, Bellator had accumulated plenty of momentum by collaborating with Japanese MMA powerhouse, RIZIN FF. As a result of the partnership, fans were treated to bouts featuring several fighters crossing over between brands. At the end of it all, supremacy was battled for via two big late December events.
In one of the two women’s bouts featuring Bellator vs. RIZIN, we saw the highly touted unbeaten 9-0-1 prospect Kana Watanabe represent Japan’s finest. The black belt Judoka’s Bellator debut was a successful one as she scored a third-round TKO over Brazil’s Ilara Joanne.
Fast forward to almost a year later and Watanabe is now officially making the transition over to the Bellator roster. MyMMANews confirmed via sources, as well as Watanabe herself, that she has signed a four-fight contract with the promotion.
Having received the offer in mid-November, the 32-year old was already hoping to challenge herself against more international competition going forward. Now she’s very exciting to know that it’s not a matter of if, but when.
“It definitely helps that I’ve fought at their event once,” Watanabe shared. “Because Bellator uses their circular cage instead of the ones with corners. So it definitely will make it easier for me for my next fight because I already fought in the circle cage and I know what it feels like. And the operation, the whole fight week experience is different. So it’s nice to know I’ve done it once before.”
As of right now, the ink is still fresh on the newly signed contract therefore there’s been no discussion regarding who or when her next fight will be. However, it’s safe to assume that it could come sometime in the Spring.
Taking the timing into consideration, Kana Watanabe will have extended the longest layoff of her still-young career even longer as she’ll go a full year between bouts. It’s been a long break as is, but it’s just allowed her to continue honing her skills. Most notably, Watanabe believes her ground control has been taken to another level and she can control anyone in that area. While on the other hand, her striking, which she admits to being a weak point, is coming along nicely, too.
Now that Kana Wantabe is indeed a member of the Bellator roster, she becomes the first and only Japanese female competitor in their flyweight division’s history. Overall, she’s only the second woman to sign with them behind the iconic Megumi Fujii.
Because of that, her goals are clear: proudly represent the flag and capture gold while doing so.
“It’s a special platform where not everybody gets to compete on,” Watanabe began. “So I’m very honored, and I feel obligated to perform and prove to the world that the Japanese fighters are good. Japanese fighters are strong. That’s my mindset heading into this contract.
“I think the motivation is much higher because there’s a belt and there’s a champion to go after. That’s gonna be my goal is to go after that champion or the belt, whoever has it at the time. But yes, it’s very motivating.”
For Kana Watanabe, this will be her first career opportunity to get to chase a title as her previous combat quarters of RIZIN and Deep Jewels didn’t have such an award for her weight class. And if she achieves the status of champion in Bellator, she’ll make a multitude of history.
Late last year during the aforementioned RIZIN-Bellator crossover, RIZIN bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi became the first Japanese champion in Bellator history. Since then, there haven’t been any opportunities given to others to follow it up but Watanabe can work her way into that position.
Not only would she also become the first Japanese woman to hold the flyweight title but she would be just the second champion in the division’s history. That’s assuming that the current undefeated queenpin, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, can thwart off Juliana Velasquez tonight at Bellator 254…
“I’ve seen Juliana’s highlights and her striking’s very good, she doesn’t really lean heavily on her Judo skills,” Watanabe assessed. “She’s a very well rounded fighter and Ilima’s definitely a well-rounded fighter. So my point of this fight is that probably—two good, well-rounded fighters going at it, and I’m sure there’s going to be a point where Juliana’s going to have to utilize her Judo skills so I’m excited to see where that comes in play. So in terms of how I’m going to watch that fight, it’s where and when Juliana can utilize her Judo skills. And that’s something I’ll be looking forward to.”
When it comes to the competition in her home of Japan, Kana Watanabe had faced just about everyone she could except for one notable UFC veteran. Despite that, she doesn’t see the matchups shortcoming as a missed opportunity.
In addition, while she gets set to leave the MMA scene in Japan behind, for now, it has left Watanabe with time to reflect on the memories her career has provided her to this point
“For me, I don’t really care for my opponents,” she expressed. “I don’t really pick my opponents. It’s more of whatever I want to challenge. That changes who I’ll be fighting. So I don’t really have a specific pick for anybody. It’s more of where I challenge, where I put myself in, the opponents will come. So if the timing’s right and if the opportunity presents itself to fight [Rin] Nakai again, I’m sure I’ll be happy to do that.
“For both organizations, the most memorable fights would be my first fights. So for Deep Jewels, it was my debut as an MMA fighter. I remember thinking to myself that my body is moving as I expect it. Actually better than I expect it. I was having a lot of fun. I remember enjoying my first fight in Deep Jewels. And as for RIZIN, I fought against a very tough veteran, [Shizuka] Sugiyama-san. I remember fighting a very tough fight and being able to win that fight. So that was a very memorable moment for RIZIN.”
In a very deep talent pool of fighters in Bellator, Kana Watanabe aims to leave her mark and take on the best opponents available.
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.