By Chris Gunn. Twitter: @chrisgunn82
The most recent Seiza event served as graduation for two of it’s most accomplished competitors. After being with the promotion for the last year, Julija Stoliarenko and Tabatha Ricci will move on for pastures new. We sat down and spoke to them about their experiences and plans for the future.
Despite coming from different sides of the globe, their journeys to Seiza were not entirely dissimilar. For Tabatha ‘I started when I was a child doing Judo, my father is a judoka. Then after Judo I went into basketball and running. Then I started Muay Thai and Jiu-jitsu, and finally MMA’. As for Julija ‘I started when I was 12 from universal karate. I did that for 6 years until I finished school. Later I moved to another town for University and was just looking for something to do. One of my team mates from my hometown introduced me to Jiu-jitsu. My coach had done Muay Thai for a long time so helped me with my striking too. His goal for me from the beginning was to make me a complete MMA fighter. I did a lot of amateur striking like kickboxing, karate, Muay Thai and in the last six years I really went deeper into Jiu-Jitsu and became a complete MMA fighter’.
After turning professional, MMA fights were hard to come by and both athletes were struggling to get more than one fight a year, so when the opportunity came to live and fight in Tokyo, they grabbed it with both hands. The idea of Seiza is to develop young fighters, with them living, training and fighting together. Julija joined the Nepalese duo of Rajina Bista and Radha Manandhar in July, with Tabatha joining in December.
Seiza events were held in January, May, July and October. Tabatha fought seven times in the four events, her only loss coming in the third of three consecutive fights at the July event, a loss to fatigue more than anything. In addition to Juilja’s four wins in four Seiza fights, she has included an MMA fight and two Lethwei fights. Reaching a dizzying seven fights and seven wins, including six finishes, in less than a year. This constant competition has allowed the fighters to hone their skills, ‘In Lithuania, I could only get one fight a year, I got way more experience and started to feel more comfortable in fights. I started to do some things in fights that really clicked in my mind, for example, some takedowns, I always knew that I can do them because I did them in training but I didn’t have that experience in the fight, and now I feel that ‘oh’, this works’.
With Tabatha’s Judo skills and Julija’s uncanny ability to finish arm bars, their grappling skills were overwhelming for their Seiza opponents. However, Seiza employ a 30 second time limit on the ground, something which saved their opponents from being finished very quickly. However, Julija had a slightly different take on this, ‘I think that 30 seconds is a little more dangerous for some fighters because first of all, when I have only 30 seconds I’m trying to do my submission faster, so they get injured faster. Also, the opponent is trying to survive, so even if they feel an injury, they try to hang on and this makes injuries even more likely’.
However, despite the rule set, neither fighter saw the rules or points system as anything to think too deeply on, for them it was simply about finishing fights by KO or submission. ‘Even when I was younger, I always fought for the finish…and when I came to Seiza, I just thought I don’t care about the rules or the points’ Julija explained.
Indeed, rather than fighting for points, both fighters used their time in Japan to develop their skills and experience. Having started with MMA legend Kiyoshi Tamura, they then expanded their training to include Muay Thai with Patrick Ayuyu, and Judo with Michihiro Omigawa. For Tabatha, this has been a huge development, allowing her to gain her black belt in Judo, something that is difficult to do in Brazil. While Julija also feels that becoming comfortable with Judo has also been important to her overall game.
This kind of experience will prove invaluable for Tabatha and Julija as they move forward in their careers. Tabatha is now back in Brazil before heading to California where she will train with Ricardo Franjinha Miller at Paragon Gym. Julija, on the other hand, just made the move back to Lithuania after her most recent Lethwei win, a beautifully brutal knockout which won her the world title.
After such an eventful year, Tabatha and Julija are happy with the experience they have gained in and out of the ring, including developing relationships with coaches, and not least their Seiza stablemates Rajina and Radha with whom they lived and trained with for the last year. ‘We met many friends and meet good people, it was great’ said Tabatha. ‘Seiza gave us a lot of experience and we are really grateful to them. It’s the perfect time for us to move on’ explains Julija.
Eventually, they both aim to be in the UFC, but certainly don’t rule out fighting back in Japan, with Rizin also an option. In addition to their fighting ability, what is most striking about both fighters is their hunger, enthusiasm and determination. When asked about their plans for the next couple of years, Julija says, ‘I wanna just get MMA fights! I can’t wait to fight in MMA… We don’t care where we fight, we don’t care who we fight, we just wanna fight!’… ‘and right away’ adds Tabatha.
Be on the lookout for two skilled, talented and hungry fighters as they develop their careers over the next few years.
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