Although tiny in stature, Saori Oshima has had a huge year.
The undeniable frontrunner for breakthrough fighter of the year, the 26-year old Shimane native entered 2021 as one of atomweight’s most promising prospects as well as the Deep Jewels 97-pound microweight champion – fresh off the heels of only her second career defeat. Now, with 2022 approaching, she finds herself a dual-division titleholder with a strong claim as the fighter of the year to boot.
Oshima’s current run began as part of the Deep Jewels 105-pound atomweight title tournament where a shocking impression was immediately made.
Kicking things off against divisional pioneer Emi Tomimatsu, Oshima needed merely 45 seconds to submit the 30-plus fight veteran via kimura. The submission acts as easily the quickest Tomimatsu has ever been submitted – the previous speed coming in Tomimatsu’s pro debut in 2006 at 3:35, the only other time she’s lost in a single round.
“My impression just by watching her train is that she has that special intuition for finishing a fight,” Burst Gym coach Megumi Fujii told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN. “She finds that moment, she sees the opening opportunity and she capitalizes on it. It’s something rare these days to see a fighter with that intuition. She always fights for the finish and I’m sure a lot of other fighters always go for the finish as well. But Oshima has that special intuition where she sees that moment and she will not let that moment pass.”
The 4-foot-11 belt collector advanced to the semifinals with the win where she found herself in a rematch against her fellow favorite to win it all, South Korea’s Si Woo Park – Oshima’s last conqueror.
After a strong first-round thanks to Oshima’s aggressive grappling style in their initial encounter, Park figured out her Japanese counterpart down the stretch to defend and score a decision win. As the best striker in Deep’s 105-pound weight class, the expectations remained similar heading into the rematch.
“That tournament definitely helped me grow and mature as a fighter,” said Oshima when also appearing on BROADENED HORIZIN. “The reason is because I lost my fight heading into that tournament so I had to rethink and reschedule my training methods and I was able to adjust my fight camp to where I could get prepared for this tournament. So overall, it worked out for me and it turned out very well for me.”
Park and Oshima’s second collision played out somewhat as a sped-up version of their first meeting only this time the Korean quickly dropped her rival with a big two-punch combo. However, Park’s persistence to finish instantly cost her. Ever-dangerous at all times on the mat, Oshima was followed to the ground where she caught her foe in an armbar to force the tap.
Later that same night, Oshima earned her third straight win of 2021 as well as the 105-pound crown by out grappling fellow wrestling standout Hikaru Aono in the finals. Thus setting the scene for a bright future and even bigger moments ahead.
Oshima inevitably made her RIZIN debut at RIZIN 31 on Oct. 24. The speed of the call-up admittedly came faster than expected for the mother to twins, but her big upset win on one of the sport’s grandest stages left her remaining humble as if nothing had changed.
“Before the fight, I was very nervous,” Oshima said. “There were many people who talked to and stopped by to wish me good luck and all that. But after the walkout and once I stepped in the ring, I was able to switch my mentality to just straight fight mode and I didn’t feel any nervousness, I felt I performed exactly how I do all the time. So I think it was a good thing that once I stepped in the ring, I was able to switch my mindset.
“Just normal parenting is hard. It’s really hard to balance [with MMA] because if you practice too much, you’re not going to be able to take care of your children and do housework and stuff. And vice versa, if you focus too much on taking care of the children and doing stuff at the house, you lose time from practice. So it’s very hard to do, and I’m going to say I’m at where I haven’t been able to juggle these two obligations well yet. I’m still figuring out what works, still in the process to perfect it.”
Thrown into the deep water, Oshima swam.
Scored a split decision nod over divisional elite, Kanna Asakura, in the RIZIN 31 co-main event, the Deep Jewels champ-champ catapulted herself from the top 10 to 15 range of their division and prospect status to a clear top 3 contender.
What she lacks in size Oshima has proven throughout her nine fights thus far to make up for in skill and technique – Asakura found that out firsthand in the form of a relentless pace and several submission attempts and up-kicks to the face.
“I was able to get inside of her pretty easily but once I took her down she was physically very strong and I could barely keep top position and keep control because she was so strong with her wrestling background,” Oshima said. “She was very flexible and she would try to get away, squirm away at any angle. So in that sense, she was very strong and I couldn’t get that finish because of her physical strength.”
“A lot of other fighters can always go for the finish, but they tend to lose that opportunity when it’s there and they can’t capitalize on it,” Fujii added. “Saori can and I do really believe it’s a rare breed and skillset to have these days. I mean, all fighters can do everything, very well-rounded, and they have a very high base on all aspects but that intuition is something you can’t teach and I think Oshima is one of those fighters who has that from the beginning.”
With two titles to her name and four wins in a single year, Oshima has quickly burst onto the scene as a force to be reckoned with… and there may still be more to come.
Instantly inserted into the mix as the new top atomweight contender to challenge the arguable all-time best at atomweight, and current RIZIN titleholder, Ayaka Hamasaki, Oshima already has good familiarity with the legend. Both fighters training at Abe Ani Combat Club presents a potentially epic story for a clash of student vs. master – at least from the outside looking in.
“We are affiliated in the same team but it’s not like we train very closely,” Oshima explained. “Because I have a family and I have other obligations to take care of, I can only train at AACC about twice a week. It’s not like when I go to AACC I always spar with Hamasaki. But when we do, she’s very strong. She’s so good, she beats me pretty bad.
“With that being said, fighting for the belt is nice but I think that RIZIN has other very tough opponents for me before that belt so meanwhile, I think it would be nice for me to get matched up with those other tough fighters and that’s what I’m thinking at the moment.”
Whether or not Oshima shoots for a third career title and second at atomweight next remains to be seen. Regardless, there are more than enough options to stay busy between two fighting homes. Understanding that RIZIN’s big New Year’s Eve event is rather popular among her peers, Oshima doesn’t deny it’s an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
At the same time, the urge to be a fighting champion burns inside her. Coincidentally, that sounds comparable to her aforementioned potential future opponent.
“She has something similar to what I see in Ayaka Hamasaki and to say the least, I’m very excited to see where she’s going to go,” Fujii said.
BROADENED HORIZIN Ep. 10 ENGLISH AUDIO 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.