Working your way up slowly before getting to the big stage is typically how a career in MMA starts for any aspiring fighter. Jumping into the deep end of the pool isn’t always the best approach but there are ways to make it work. 27-year old flyweight prospect Shinju Auclair has displayed that to the fullest.
Amateur bouts have seemingly become a dying art in the mixed martial arts game – yet their value remains unparalleled. Before turning professional in 2017—the same year she began fighting overall—Auclair made her amateur debut in February. She would go 2-1 with those fights taking place in the scenic midwestern states of Michigan and Ohio.
Platform-wise, Auclair made quite the leap going from amateur to pro when she got the call to compete for premier Japan-based MMA promotion RIZIN Fighting Federation.
“You can’t deny that that production value is just absolutely unmatched,” Auclair told MyMMANews. “I definitely feel super spoiled that having been my debut. That being said, I will fight anywhere. I will fight regionally, in the alleyway if I have to (laughs). So as amazing as it is, I really enjoy the time from the first bell ringing to when it ends, and production aside, the sport is amazing.”
As one of the very few American fighters, if not the only, to have had their entire pro career take place in RIZIN, Auclair has that desire for the commotion that comes with her country audiences. Japanese crowds are often respectful and educated beyond comparison to others. Which in turn leads to “eerily quiet” atmospheres, describes Auclair.
The New York-born combatant may have these combinations of unique notches under her belt but similar to many a fighter and fans alike, The Ultimate Fighter was Auclair’s catalyst.
“I just saw it on TV and I thought it was really cool,” she said. “I did karate when I was younger and I wanted to do it again, that’s it. It was The Ultimate Fighter [season 20] with the women so Gil [Melendez] was actually the coach. I personally wasn’t watching it, I had a roommate who was watching it in the background and by the first couple episodes of the season, I’d walk past and be like, ‘Ah, that’s pretty cool.’ Then by the end, I was totally sucked into it. I had no idea Gil was in the city. Now it’s just kind of wild that he’s my coach and that was my introduction to MMA.”
Seeing the first 16 115-pound strawweights battling for supremacy to decide the inaugural UFC champion left Auclair impressed and inspired. As mentioned, the coincidence of her future coach Gilbert Melendez homing his gym, El Nino Training Center, in the area only made the pursuit all the more enticing.
Auclair finds herself with no shortage of inspiration within the team around her. It remains a large learning experience just being present in the gym despite her own experience gaining with each new day.
Unfortunately for the RIZIN flyweight, she’s been sidelined since December 2018 due to injuries topped by a rather pesky pandemic situation.
The hope for Auclair was to compete a matter of months following her last outing. Just 10 days before fight night during the very last practice, the El Nino product suffered some torn ligaments in her foot. Since then Auclair’s had to balance out fight life with a regular job as a personal trainer due to the expensive city life in San Francisco. Additionally, the pandemic wound up just leading to more training, precautionary eye surgery, and even some cornering opportunities to her teammates Leslie Smith and Keri Melendez.
“I think just being there for the process and watching these veterans handle the entire situation – it really opens your eyes to all the things I did wrong in my camp (laughs),” Auclair said. “Because my camp looked nothing like theirs. As far as the emotional aspect of it, I don’t handle my friends fighting very well. I don’t get nervous at all for my own matches but when they were fighting – I hope I did a good job in keeping my emotions under wraps but I was so antsy and worked up for their matches. But it was a lot of fun and of course they both won, it was awesome.”
Going 2-1 as an amateur, “Juju” can currently say the same as a pro.
Two exhilarating and high-energy performances kicked off Auclair’s RIZIN run as she secured first-round armbars in both. In her aforementioned last time out, however, she was on the receiving end of what is just the first of many admitted lessons to come.
Now one fight remains on her RIZIN deal and she’s left in limbo while things slowly clear up in Japan. Until then, it’s just continuing to wait on the chance to right the wrong that came in the form of a second-round rear-naked choke against Justyna Haba.
“Don’t get choked out, No. 1… That’s a good one (laughs),” Auclair said of her takeaways from the loss. “I really focused on my jiu-jitsu following that fight. I did a couple tournaments right after that. Between when I was scheduled to fight [at RIZIN 15] and that loss. Really working on competition jiu-jitsu, just slowing everything down. We rewatched the footage and I jumped the gun on certain positions that I didn’t have complete control over and I got caught doing that. So really focusing on fight IQ and slowing things down, working on control as opposed to trying to kill at every single moment.
“We were hoping that the last New Year’s card that I might be able to go fly out there but unfortunately they voted to close the borders. So we were kind of holding out. I think the vote was happening in the beginning of November so we had our fingers crossed and unfortunately it didn’t go through. I recently looked it up and it looks like there isn’t really a date right now for when things are going to open back up so not really sure. Kind of at a standstill right now.”
Major promotions and platforms like RIZIN can only aid a budding star like Auclair when not throwing them to wolves right out the gate – a rare sight at times.
Even when that’s the case, the spotlight is unavoidable and pressure is easily buildable. For Auclair, all the fight-related antics are just the tip of the spear.
Fittingly a Japan-based pro to this point, Auclair does have famous ties to the country thanks to her mother Naoko Nozawa. The Japanese comedian has been supporting her daughter in the crowd during all of her fights.
Obviously, face-punching and making people laugh are pretty different ways to make a living.
“My mom definitely misunderstood,” Auclair said of her mother’s reaction to her getting into MMA. “She thought I was going to cardio kickboxing or something like that – didn’t realize I was doing the four-ounce gloves, the broken noses, the torn arms, I didn’t think she understood the entire picture. My dad thought I was going to quit right after my first sparring session. He thought it was kind of a funny thing that I was doing like, ‘Okay, good for you.’
“I think as soon as the bell goes off, whatever I felt about my parents being there just kind of goes out the window. She’s definitely a basket case before the fight as I’m sure most fight mothers are. It is hard to talk to her leading up to the fight because she says parent-like things. Like, ‘Oh, what happens if you bleed? What happens if you lose? What happens if you get knocked out?’ and I can’t blame her for caring for me in that way. But I don’t really want to hear it before I’m about to go get punched in the face by somebody else so I kind of keep the contact with her to a minimum leading up to the fight. Sorry, ma!”
As 2021 carries on, Shinju Auclair has now been out of active MMA competition for longer than she’s been in it.
Optimistic that she’ll get her opportunity before next year, the goal is two fights by that time. If that can’t be attained then, well, it sucks to be whoever runs into her in that alleyway.
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.