Asian MMA is alive and well in 2019. And among its many great representatives, Kanako Murata is one of the brightest young stars in the sport regardless of where her journey began.
Born in Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan, Murata’s odyssey into MMA came to life on April 17, 2016. As this was the starting point of something great for Murata, the same would be said for the Japan-based promotion she has made her name in, RIZIN Fighting Federation.
However, the future strawweight standout’s trek into combat sports began earlier than the Springtime four years ago.
When it comes to legendary sporting figures in the country of Japan, there are few quite like the three-time Olympic gold medalist, Saori Yoshida. The wrestling icon has been an inspiration for so many in Japan and Murata was no different.
Sharing that Yoshida was who got her into wrestling, Murata would end up becoming an established grappler in her own right. At age 17, she would achieve her first of two junior world championships with Nihon University. Her second would follow in the year directly after in 2012. As an amateur wrestling sensation, Murata would compete for the last time in 2013 after considering a stab at the Olympics.
This very same year, former Olympic bronze medalist Judoka, Ronda Rousey, would make history by defending her UFC title in the very first female bout in the promotion’s history. After seeing the rapid success of Rousey, Murata knew what her next adventure would be.
Fast forward to 22-years old and Murata was set to compete in her own form of the Olympics.
In a way, RIZIN 1 started off the rebirth of the late-great PRIDE Fighting Championship but all while being new and different at the same time. Along with the notable names kicking off the festivities like Shoot-Boxing superstar, Rena Kubota, and current RIZIN light heavyweight champion, Jiri Prochazka, there was the budding 5-foot-1 Murata.
In her professional MMA debut, she picked up a dominant win over five-fight Russian veteran, Natalya Denisova. It’s extremely rare that debutants get to have their very first fight on such big stages. And sometimes things don’t work out for the best… But in the case of the former junior wrestling champ, it sped up her growth process.
“RIZIN taught me how to fight as a professional,” Murata told The Scrap. “It took some time, but I have learned how to deliver what people want to see and not just go for the win.”
With some of the best, if not the best, production value in all of MMA, RIZIN is able to capture and craft that “big fight feel” with every single event that they put on. Each show is its own spectacle for multiple reasons that differ from the rest.
As 2019 winds down to its end, Murata’s record sits comfortably at an impressive 10-1. Six of her fights have taken place inside the RIZIN ring.
Going from wrestling to MMA is one thing, as it’s often stated that there’s a big difference in wrestling to wrestle and wrestling to fight in an MMA contest. When it comes to rule discrepancies, even in MMA as a sport overall, precedents aren’t created equally everywhere.
Having fought primarily in her home country of Japan, the Combat Sports Academy (CSA) product has fought stateside before and will look to do so more often in the future. Therefore she’ll be getting to introduce herself to all the variants MMA has to offer when it comes to the many guidelines.
“When I was wrestling, we had so many rule changes at the time, so I guess I am used to adapting to new rules as they come along. So I don’t feel any difficulties.” Murata shared.
“I moved over to CSA [in California] to learn MMA wrestling from Coach Kirian [Fitzgibbons]. CSA has many UFC, Bellator, and Invicta fighters there on a regular basis and many others come for the fight camp. I am currently spending the extremely important and valuable time of my career here in CSA.”
After testing her skills at 125-pounds in the flyweight division a few times, strawweight’s 115-pound limit would be where Murata has found her stride. As she currently rides a winning streak of six-straight, losing is in the rear-view mirror and that’s been made clear with the fashion she’s won in as of late. “I learned that I never ever want to lose ever again after I lost,” she said. Well, so far so good.
Prior to her last victory, Murata was able to sink in the unicorn-esque Von Flue choke submission… she would actually end up utilizing it in back to back fights. Following the first time she pulled off the submission maneuver, it made her the only female fighter to successfully do so in MMA history. Then what do you know? She goes and does it immediately after.
Along with being the only female fighter to pull off that choke for a win, she’s only the second fighter to ever do it in more than one fight.
Matsuyama’s finest has really come into her own and is still just really getting started. Due to her recent success, Murata is now preparing for what she admits to being a surprising first career title opportunity.
“I have never thought about fighting for a title,” she explained. “I was just wondering when my next fight would be, and the next fight happened to be the title fight. There is really no difference between a title fight and a normal fight. It’s just more rounds so there’s nothing I am going to change. I do feel that I am getting better as a fighter so a title fight at this stage is great timing for me.”
On November 1 at Invicta FC 38, Kanako Murata will look to capture the vacant Invicta strawweight title by taking out Emily Ducote.
For each fighter, it will be their second appearances in the Invicta promotion. But unlike Murata, this won’t be Ducote’s first crack at MMA gold.
The former Bellator flyweight title challenger made her strawweight debut in her last fight opposite former Invicta title challenger, Janaisa Morandin and looked fantastic. Executing her gameplan to perfection, Ducote would cash out early after connecting with clean punches at the four-minute mark of round one.
In Murata’s Invicta debut, she defeated her opponent, Liana Pirosin, in just about half of Ducote’s time when she cinched up her first career rear-naked choke victory. Regardless, the Japanese wrestler is quite aware of what she’s up against in the biggest fight of her career.
“My good friend, [Bellator flyweight champion] Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, has fought Emily twice in Bellator for the title so I have known about her for quite some time. I have seen many of her fights.” Murata stated.
The vision is clear in the eyes of the 27-year old; “become the true world number one fighter.”
At Invicta 38, Murata can take one big step closer to doing that with a radar triggering performance. And that’s her only focus. She’ll think about what comes next after she gets that gold title wrapped around her waist with her hand held high.
When one’s mind is as sharp as their physical tools, they can be a rather dangerous task to overcome for any adversary. We’ve seen the recent accelerated growth of MMA fighters in Asian countries like China. For Japan, it’s always been a steady progression from the get-go.
Finding yet another idol over the course of her athletic career in the MMA pioneer, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kanako Murata could very well be the next Japanese superstar to leave an emphatic impression.
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The Scrap’s Drake Riggs is an MMA writer and YouTuber based out of Brush Prairie, Washington who specializes in feature pieces, the women’s fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. Riggs has been a passionate MMA fan since 2009 and has written for various news sources. You can follow him on Twitter (@Dre_Kriggs).