At the JEWELS show held at Shinjuku FACE in Tokyo on March 19th, two pioneers of women’s MMA in Japan, Megumi Yabushita and Yoko Takahashi, announced the foundation of their new team, and the collaboration with Fight Chix, a popular apparel brand based in the States.
This means, all eight pro women MMA fighters under the training and the management of Megumi and Yoko, such as Masako Yoshida and Yukiko Seki, will represent Team Fight Chix, and of course, all of them will be wearing Fight Chix clothing for their appearances.
It was a long road for Megumi and Yoko to get to this point.
Megumi is a product of “an education for gifted athletes” administrated by none other than her own father who was a very proud and accomplished judo-ka.
She was working with rubber tubes, running up and down the stairs at the temple near by her house, and of course she was slamming people onto that tatami floor way before entering elementary school.
Then Megumi started to excel in high school, became a regular at the national championships, scouted by Japan’s best corporate judo team Miki House, and in 1993 won the National Championships, then in 1994 she placed third in both Fukuoka and Germany World Games.
After competing in the World Judo Championship, in 1996, as a “judo elite”, Megumi joined Jd’, a pro-wrestling promotion founded by Yoshimoto, one of Japan’s biggest entertainment group that houses many top comedians.
And this is where she met Yoko, and her journey in the MMA began here as well.
Yoko joined All Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1994, and on July 16th, 1996, fought a fighter with the ring name “Thunder Crack” and became “Japan’s First Woman MMA Fighter.”
Yoko went on to fight two more MMA bouts in 1996, however, at the end of the year, due to her hernia, she decided to not continue pro-wrestling, but instead shifted gears on her career as a professional MMA fighter and a part-time referee in pro-wrestling.
When Megumi met her, Yoko was a pro-wrestling referee that also trained MMA, and of course, this is the reason why Megumi also began training MMA.
A year later, in 1997, Megumi made a pro MMA debut, submitting Ji Hee Yu from Korea with an armbar, but it was not until 2000, that the fans really started to recognize both Megumi and Yoko as the pioneers of Japan’s women’s MMA.
Megumi entered ReMix, the biggest woman’s MMA tournament with a prize money of 100K for the winner and 10K for the runner-up. It was an open-weight tourney so although Megumi was around 115 lbs at the time, she had to face much bigger fighters. However this situation gave Megumi a big spotlight because she faced a 350 lbs judo-ka from Russia named Svetlana Goundarenko in the first round. Megumi, with Yoko as her chief corner person, took advantage of this opportunity and actually dominated the fight with her quickness and take down skills.
Megumi advanced all the way to the tournament final, and overnight, Megumi and women’s MMA became one of the hottest topics in Japanese fight sports.
However the good thing never lasted.
Jd’ was not generating profit so by the year 2002 the future of the promotion didn’t look too promising so both Megumi and Yoko decided to go with their new partner called SOD (Soft on Demand).
They left the pro-wrestling promotion, and founded SOD Women’s MMA Dojo then began fighting MMA more often and at the same time started to train and raise young MMA fighters.
But their sponsor, SOD, had a different ideas.
SOD is one of the biggest adult film / video makers in Japan, so their intention was not just raising and managing fighters, and operating an MMA gym. They were looking to do a little more.
Not necessarily asking fighters to take their clothes off but they were hoping to get more exposure among the male fans through their fights and a gym, and also, looking to add a bit of the “fight” aspect into their video and film business.
Therefore, Yoko has been a referee in an adult video where all actresses fought buck naked in the ring.
But of course, this didn’t last too long.
Both Megumi and Yoko felt its better to work independently and decided to leave the partnership with SOD and closed their gym at the end of May 2006.
Immediately after leaving SOD with all of their disciples, they formed a team called “Tomoe-gumi” but with no place to train they were forced to enter into a collaboration with Fang Gym in Tokyo.
However this didn’t last too long either.
A few fighters in the team had a differences with policies of Fang Gym so the team started to fall apart.
Megumi and Yoko had to called it quits in about a year and in November of 2007 they officially announced that all fighters in the team Tomoe-gumi had now “graduated” and everyone will be training at the various places.
All of them became “freelance” and kept no association with any other gym or team for a few months but eventually all the fighters came back, asking Megumi and Yoko to manage them so they formed a new team called “Team Age Age” in 2008 but yet the team didn’t even have a place to train so they began looking for a place to train where they didn’t have to deal with any existing gym.
And this is when Megumi and Yoko became very creative.
They negotiated a deal with a bar / live house in Shinjuku, Tokyo, called “Exit”, and they became bouncers at this joint, of course, with an adequate salary, and also, they got the right to use the live house space for their training and the amateur MMA shows free of charge.
Megumi and Yoko immediately got mats from the sponsors and began working on getting a ring so they could start hosting amateur shows.
Therefore, on some nights, Megumi is breaking up fights at the live house and Yoko is carrying a drunken passed out man to the nearest subway station, but during the day, all fighters of the team get together at this live house and train in MMA.
Since they found a new home for the team, Megumi and Yoko wanted to change their team name and they wanted a name that represents “girls that keep on fighting” and that is when they met Fight Chix.
Megumi and Yoko liked the name, and also the merchandises Fight Chix is producing, and again, they became creative and contacted Fight Chix for a possible collaboration.
And everything came into the place and now their team is called Team Fight Chix, and their next step is to introduce, market, and distribute Fight Chix products in the Japanese market.
Yoko said, “I am very excited about this collaboration. I am wishing to provide more hopes to the young women MMA fighters in Japan. I want them to realize the world is very big and anything can be possible.”
The collaboration between a US apparel brand and a women’s fight team in Japan is something never done before but Megumi is feeling comfortable, “Fight Chix has been very helpful and cooperative with this project from day one so I am not worried about anything. Also I think the design of Fight Chix clothes have a concept of ‘cuteness’ which is necessary in Japan but it also has that dynamic feel of an ‘American product’ so I am sure it will be accepted well by the fans here.”
Megumi and Yoko are hoping this collaboration and Team Fight Chix will last a long time and perhaps maybe they are hoping to make this a final destination of their long professional career.
Text by Shu Hirata (ADCC News)
Photo by Kaoru Taguri