Satoko-Shinashi

PhotoCred: Sherdog (Stephen Martinez)

The Little Princess that Could: Satoko Shinashi and Atomweight’s Roots

If you’re an MMA fan in the modern-day, you’ve probably never once heard the name Satoko Shinashi.

Going back even 10 years and many still might not be familiar with the Adachi native – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

The 105-pound atomweight division remains to this day one that is constantly trying to grow and reach new heights – unlike perpetually struggling divisions such as the 145-pound featherweight class. But even the burgeoning lightest weight in the sport once started out minuscule, to say the least – yet it’s managed to be around for nearly longer than most.

Now 44-years of age, Shinashi has just as many fights to her name and boasts an excellent 38-4-2 record that began in 2001. Last competing at Deep 93 Impact in December 2019, “Princess” suffered a TKO defeat to Mizuki “Nisse” Oshiro.

Despite the very full career she’s had, the intent to rebound is still there.

“I love to compete, that’s my passion,” Shinashi told MyMMANews. “I hope that I can continue as long as I can because all the fighters who used to fight in my time, they’re all retired, they’re all gone. So I hope I can still be the one to show that essence from that era. I want to be the hope for the old school fighters.

“I would really want to fight if I got the offer [from somewhere like RIZIN]. I’ve never gotten a real offer from a big promotion so yeah, please give me an offer.”

Satoko Shinashi
PhotoCred: Sherdog (Taro Irei) – Shinashi hitting a Judo throw vs. Rika Hamada

Standing at a mere 4-foot-10, Shinashi is one of the smallest atomweight competitors of all time – thus making her success all the more impressive. For several fights, she’s even competed below 100-pounds.

“I do feel it’s something to be proud of but I also can’t forget the fact that I didn’t do this alone,” Shinashi said of her success despite her size. “It was all because of the people who supported me and who helped me make these accomplishments.”

Shinashi holds an astounding 84 percent finish rate with a whopping 27 of her 38 victories coming by way of submission (five by knockout or TKO).

Simply due to her physical attributes, Shinashi was never going to be a one-hitter quitter – perhaps like her rival Hisae Watanabe… but that’s a story for another day.

Starting from one art after another, the Smackgirl staple was blown away upon initially discovering a sport like MMA.

“I started Judo when I was 15, influenced by my father,” Shinashi said. “I continued to do Judo throughout my student years and after I finished college, I didn’t have anything else to compete in. I kind of finished Judo and I was in limbo. Then a friend introduced me to Sambo. That’s when I started getting into Sambo but there weren’t any tournaments or competitions in Japan at the time, you would have to travel abroad.

“So I tried to compete in wrestling or grappling tournaments to keep myself active. That’s when another friend kind of introduced me to MMA. And If I could compete in MMA, I could fight in Japan and be competitive.”

Assembling a Mount Rushmore of female pioneers out of Japan is not at all an impossible task. A very strong candidate to be one of the four, Shinashi is shoulder to shoulder with fighters like Megumi Fujii, Yuka Tsuji, Miku Matsumoto – all of which went on tremendous winning streaks at one time or another.

Matsumoto’s 12-fight streak to finish her career, Tsuji’s 14-fight streak in the midst of her time in the sport, Fujii’s iconic 22-fight start… and Shinashi’s 20 straight off the jump.

Satoko Shinashi
PhotoCred: Sherdog (Stephen Martinez) – Miku Matsumoto and Satoko Shinashi

Last year, RIZIN FF and PRIDE FC Founder Nobuyuki Sakakibara surprisingly shared his dreams of a PRIDE super fight pitting Shinashi vs. her once teammate in Fujii. Outside of a 2004 single-round exhibition with Tsuji, Shinashi stunningly never crossed paths with any of these other three pioneers.

While various reasons may have come into play, the facts remained the same. Structure in the early days of the sport was just hard to come by in many a form.

“There were a lot of fighters that I wish I could have fought,” Shinashi shared. “But the fact was that I was just so much smaller than everybody else. I would have had to be giving up like 10 kilos to fight somebody. If you consider the safety measures, as far as a legitimate competition-wise, it just didn’t make any sense. So there were a lot of fighters I wish I would have competed against but it was just the size difference didn’t help at all.”

For Satoko Shinashi, she did all she could to be a superior competitor in a time where the building blocks were yet to exist. She became one creating the foundation for women and atomweights, and then some by sticking around surely far longer than anyone expected.

MMA is still incredibly young, but its roots run deeper than realized at first glance.

“I haven’t really thought about that at all,” Shinashi said of her legacy and place in MMA history. “But I do know that consistency is power so I think that being able to continue this long, it will definitely remain in some ways.”

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