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Megumi Fujii Retires — The Greatest Of Her Time

Megumi Fujii

After years of speculation, it would seem we’ve finally reached the end of the line for “Mega-Megu.”

Last Saturday night at the Japan Vale Tudo 2nd event in Tokyo, Megumi Fujii, or “Mega-Megu” as she is affectionately known, announced that she will retire from MMA after her next bout in October. That match, at Vale Tudo Japan 3rd against a yet-to-be-named opponent, will mark the end of a proud ten year long career which saw the grappling phenomenon recognized as the top female fighter in world for several years.

In fact, back in 2008, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett described Fujii as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, regardless of gender.

Fujii began her MMA career with what was at the time a unique achievement, scoring victories in her first 22 bouts. A national champion in SAMBO and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, as well as a second place finisher at the SAMBO Worlds, “Mega-Megu” was the dominant force in the Japanese women’s MMA scene, scoring a string of victories in Shooto, Smackgirl, Jewels, and others.  Jeff Osbourne would bring Fujii over for her first tour of the US in 2004, fighting for Osbourne’s seminal promotion HooknShoot, where she defeated rising star Erica Montoya.

The circumstances surrounding her 2008 bout with Cindy Hales attracted a Seattle Weekly article in 2009. But it wasn’t until 2010 where she would finally really garner some mainstream attention in the US, including a story in USA Today. Her appearance for Bellator MMA’s 115 lb. tournament was one of MMA’s biggest stories of the year, and when she advanced to face Zoila Frausto-Gurgel in the finals, everything seemed to be in place for her to cement her legacy, at age 36.

But the victory wasn’t to be, as the much larger Frausto-Gurgel would clinch and land the occasional strike en route to a controversial split-decision victory. After the bout, Fujii would say: “I wanted to fight in her area, so I did a lot more striking. I did my best.” Her only other loss was in another controversial decision at Bellator to Jessica Aguilar last year at Bellator 69.

Japanese MMA sometimes seemed an entirely different sport from its North American counterpart, and success in one didn’t always carry over to the other. In addition to obvious differences in rules, fighters from Japan had less-obvious differences in weight management, judging, and common strength and conditioning practices. Often we found stars who made the switch to appear listless, like Akiyama — others, like Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, who actually hadn’t been on top of Japanese MMA in years, were simply overhyped as they came stateside.

Fuji was perhaps a different case: simply put, she was the greatest of her time — I scored neither the Aguilar bout nor the Frausto-Gurgel bout against her. (A draw and a win, if you’re curious.) But now, her time has passed.  Now, as the spotlight shines on women’s MMA, we sadly find Fujii left out.

How will she be remembered? I don’t know – things change so quickly in this game – but an excellent video profile from Grappling Dummy offers as good a tribute as any. There you’ll see the greatest fighter of her day, humbly accepting her place at the top of the sport, while at something of a loss to describe why she loves MMA. She shadowboxes and helps children tumble in grappling classes. Unable to describe why her career is anything special, she quietly invokes the spirit of the samurai, and having the feeling of challenging oneself.

Win or lose in October, that’s how I’ll remember Megumi Fujii, and I’ll remember her with a smile.

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