Asian MMA

New Rule Changes Will Help Female Fighters in Japan


Far away in the land of the rising sun, subtle rule changes have been made that may help strengthen female fighters in Japan.

Japan’s leading all-female promotion DEEP-Jewels normally takes place inside a ring, held in the venue SHINJUKU FACE in Tokyo. On August 29th, the event DEEP-JEWELS 9 will be held in a cage in Difer Ariake. Elbow strikes, previously not legal at all even in men’s competition, will be allowed for experienced fighters and title matches, although still prohibited for certain bouts with less experienced fighters. The weight classes will be changed to Unified MMA weight classes. Previously, the normal Japanese weight classes were 45 kilos (approximately 99 lbs), 52 kilos (114lbs), 56 kilos (123lbs) and 61 (134lbs). They’ll become Atom weight 105lbs, straw weight 115lbs, and flyweight 125lbs, and bantam weight 135lbs.

New Rule Changes Will Help Female Fighters in Japan

DEEP-Jewels fighter and current Invicta Atom weight champion Ayaka Hamasaki gives her opinion. “I think it’s great that the rules got changed so elbows are allowed, and weight-classes are the same as Unified,” she said. “I’ve always fought my whole career with no elbows, and then all of a sudden I’m thrown into a fight overseas where people are throwing them. I wasn’t used to it, and didn’t feel comfortable even throwing my own when it came down to it in the fight. This rule change makes Japan take one step closer to the world-wide standard.”

DEEP president Shigeru Saeki said, “When watching the UFC and seeing female fighters rising in visibility and getting recognition, and also considering Invicta FC, it has become necessary to lift the ban on elbows for our fighters in order to compete on a world-wide level. I decided it was good timing to do it in this upcoming DEEP-Jewels’ first showing in a cage. From now on, not only in the cage, but also in ring events we’ll allow elbow strikes. In other words, the rules will be the same as regular DEEP and will become the norm. However, there are not a great number of female fighters, and the fact of the matter is that many are not on the level to safely throw elbows. Therefore, for the meantime, elbows will be determined by if the two opponents agree to it before hand.”

Rules for females have always been different than men’s. I lived in Japan from 2003 to 2013, fighting in Japan but frequently flying home to the USA to fight, as well. I lived through many changes. In 2003, females wore MMA gloves with significantly more padding than men’s, probably about 6 oz gloves instead of the average UFC’s 4 oz. The leading promotion for females “Smack Girl” had a 30 second ground rule, so no matter if a submission was being applied or not, the ref stood the fighters up after 30 seconds of being on the ground. No ground and pound to the face was allowed, either – only the stomach and body, which seemed pointless to me, who was used to watching the UFC. Nobody fought in a cage, only rings. Like Ayaka, I was thrown into fights overseas with ground and pound and elbows in cages, not having trained any of that in my home gyms in Japan.

I remember chatting with the other female fighters at my Japanese gym and being surprised that nobody really complained. One fighter expressed that she was grateful her face wouldn’t get bruised and cut from ground and pound and elbows. I wrote it off as a cultural thing.

Years later, the 30 second ground rule was done away with in Smack Girl, but that promotion folded and morphed into “Jewels.” In addition, a new promotion “Valkyrie” was created in 2008, which did take place in a cage. Ground and pound to the face was definitely allowed for some matches, and I, myself, felt it was just like fighting overseas in America. Certain fighters with less experience were still prohibited from ground and pound. Opportunities for females to fight amateur were and continue to be very limited, due to the few number of females actually training. Many women have their first fight ever as pro. Valkyrie lived for only two years before it disappeared, and Jewels was absorbed and controlled by the promotion DEEP, forming “DEEP-Jewels.” Now ground and pound is allowed in all fights, and gloves are smaller although a little more padded than UFC gloves.

Keep your eyes open for DEEP-Jewels 9 August 29th, headlined by Strikeforce/Invicta veteran Takayo Hashi and Ji Yeon Kim from South Korea.

This article was inspired by MMARising’s write up. See his article for even more details:

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