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PhotoCred: RIZIN FF

With RIZIN 27 around the corner, Ayaka Hamasaki continues to turn back the clock

On October 25, 2009, a 26-year-old Ayaka Hamasaki was introduced to the world of MMA at Shooto: Gig Central 19. Able to reflect 12 years later, this would be the lone promotion that the young Judo sensation would go on to not win a championship belt in.

Hamasaki finds herself positioned as arguably the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen south of 115-pounds. After a singular bout in Shooto, Hamasaki went on to compete for Jewels (eventually Deep Jewels), Invicta FC, and RIZIN FF. Capturing gold in all of those, the now-38-year-old most recently reobtained her last title at RIZIN 26 on New Year’s Eve 2020.

“Being able to face Miyuu Yamamoto was definitely a humbling experience,” Hamasaki told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN. “Obviously, she’s of Canadian nationality right now, but I’ve always thought that she was definitely a top contender in my weight class — probably one of the best ones out there. So it was an honor for me to participate against such a fighter and I was very happy to be able to get that win over such a strong opponent.

“If I were to rate my performance that night, I wouldn’t give it such a high score. I did give up a takedown, she did land a couple of shots on me. So I would give it a 50 out of a 100 for my performance.”

Despite a brilliant showing that only lasted one minute and 46 seconds, Hamasaki wasn’t all too impressed by her actions. Forcing the experienced wrestler that is Miyuu Yamamoto to succumb to an ultra-rare head scissors choke, Hamasaki noted that it just came naturally as it’s a fairly common choke in Judo.

As a result, the Yamaguchi Prefecture native got the title put back around her waist as well as made sturdy cases for MMA’s female fighter and submission of 2020.

Ayaka Hamasaki
PhotoCred: Dave Fretz

Throughout Hamasaki’s 12 years competing, she’s accumulated an excellent 21-3 record having never lost back-to-back fights. Just one of those losses came under the 115-pound strawweight limit when she and Seo Hee Ham met for their trilogy bout on New Year’s Eve 2019 – a razor-thin and very competitive outing, many saw the bout going either way. Ultimately, Hamasaki saw herself on the wrong end of a title fight for the first time in her illustrious career.

Regardless of the loss, since Hamasaki’s departure from Invicta over to RIZIN in 2017, the second-degree Judo black belt has undeniably performed better than ever with five submissions in seven victories.

“I haven’t sustained any major injuries lately, I’ve been constantly able to train healthily,” She shared. “And I think that’s one thing that definitely takes effect. The other thing is that I’ve been working a lot on my striking lately. Before, I knew that my striking wasn’t good. I wasn’t confident In my striking. So that definitely reflected into my fight style. But recently I’ve been really working hard on my hands, my striking, and I’ve become a little bit more confident in myself and my striking. So I think that’s showing in an overall performance where I can comfortably use my striking which leads to utilizing my grappling in a more effective way. So I think my technique is getting better with my hands, which is leading to my grappling being more efficient and leading to more finishes.”

Ayaka Hamasaki was the first RIZIN super atomweight champion – a feat that was accomplished at the expense of the young superstar, Kanna Asakura.

Wrapping up a second-round armbar at RIZIN 14 in 2018, Hamasaki had her way with the continually burgeoning wrestler. Six fights later and Asakura has gone 5-1 riding a violent four-fight winning streak. Securing impressive wins over the future Invicta atomweight champion Alesha Zappitella as well as the unbeaten Ai Shimizu her last time out, the promotion had seen enough to give the 23-year old another opportunity to become champion.

RIZIN 27 on March 21 will be headlined by a rematch of one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen and a quickly developing prodigy looking to leave her own legacy.

“I think I got two offers last year [for this rematch] and I heard that she declined twice,” Hamasaki said. “So with all that being said, I have definitely expected this fight to happen sometime down the line. When you look at just the Japanese fighters within the weight class right now, she’s probably the only one left. She’s been winning her fights so I do think she was the next one in line and I was definitely expecting this fight to happen.

“She’s been getting better at every aspect — just a little. But from my eyes, I don’t think there’s anything significant that she’s gotten better at.”

For the Abe Ani Combat Club representative, Hamasaki’s rematch with Asakura will be her ninth bout in the RIZIN ring and her first as the main event. Her last time in this spot came at 2016’s Invicta 16 when defending against Amber Brown.

Though it’s not a common occurrence, Hamasaki notes that she doesn’t feel anything extra special about the placement atop the card. There isn’t an obligation to do “new things” per se, but she does want to put on a good fight for the fans without adding pressure to herself.

Often times in rematches or fights that see two fighters compete on multiple occasions, bad blood can be created or rivalries build. In the case of the legendary Ayaka Hamasaki, she’s only fought two fighters more than once before this next bout with Asakura.

Ayaka Hamasaki
PhotoCred: AsianMMA

Between those two, Jinh Yu Frey and the aforementioned Ham, there wasn’t any ill-will, necessarily. But in the Japanese MMA scene, the respectful nature of the culture from an outside perspective leads many to believe that everyone is pretty friendly with one another.

“A lot of people don’t really express their true feelings — especially the women, “Hamasaki said. “But with all that being said, me personally, I’d fight anybody. So I don’t like it when people think that we’re all buddies and friends. Obviously, there are some of my previous opponents that are friends. But for me, I’d fight anybody, and I don’t like people thinking that ‘Oh, I’m fighting my friend, we’re fighting even though we hang out,’ I don’t want people to think of me that way. This is just my opinion. But overall, I personally would fight anybody.”

When it comes to taking on a new challenge, Hamasaki never says no – no matter who the name is.

Admittedly, the RIZIN champ finds herself more interested in fresh matchups rather than going against an old face these days. But at the same time, the current climate with the pandemic makes it even harder to find untapped challenges. Therefore there’s no point in trying to pick fights.

Ahead of this 25th career bout, Ayaka Hamasaki has truly done it all as one of Japan’s all-time finest. Having now reclaimed the title she had scraped away from her, and age 40 approaching, it’s a matter of what’s left and for how long?

Because at this stage, the champ is performing as if she could go for another 10 years if she so desired.

“Right now, I have started to think about my life after my career,” Hamasaki said. “But I haven’t really put my thoughts into it. I just kind of think about it. But I do think that I still want to be involved in the sport somehow but I do know that I’m not a great teacher. I am not great at teaching things to other people. So I’m just still at that point where I kind of want to be involved but I know I’m not gonna be a good teacher, I don’t know what to do, but it’s very hard. I don’t really think about it too much yet.”



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