At the turn of the century, when MMA was still in its developmental stages, there were very few opportunities for female martial artists to test their skills. Japanese Organizations like Re:Mix, G-Shooto and Smackgirl spearheaded the movement in the early days amidst a surge of popularity in the sport in Japan.
Widely regarded as the best female fighter of all time, Megumi Fujii instantly stood out, her phenomenal career cementing her status as one of the legends of the sport. Less well known, there were a host of others who helped pave the way for future generations. Fighters such as Megumi Yabashita, Yuka Tsuji, Satoko Shinashi and Hitomi Akano all played a part, as did Hisae Watanabe, whose influence was undeniable.
The Wild Kickboxer with Dynamite Striking
Adorned with a leopard print costume topped with a cowboy hat, Hisae Watanabe turned heads during her walk outs. Inside the ring the 105lb kickboxer made a far bigger impact, literally. Diminutive and of slight build Hisae possessed firepower unheard of at her weight class. Fighting almost exclusively for Smackgirl, the kickboxer blasted her way through opponents, securing a reputation as a formidable Knockout artist.
In stark contrast to her fearsome and intimidating striking, Watanabe’s ground game was lacking, resulting in submission losses early in her career. After a painful heelhook loss to undefeated Sambo practitioner, division champion Satoko “Princess” Shinashi, Watanabe worked diligently on her MMA game. The rematch 4 years later, was met with great anticipation, a climax for the promotion at the time.
Rematch, Revenge and Retirement.
No longer simply a striker, Watanabe put her multifaceted MMA game on display, taking the fight to Shinashi in the rematch. On the canvas it was the “striker” threatening her grappling rival with armlocks from the guard. On the feet, physically stronger and hitting harder than ever, Watanabe timed her shots with power and precision. A picture perfect right hand propelled Shinashi off her feet, out cold before she hit the canvas.
The highlight reel knockout became one of the classics of women’s MMA. Unbeaten in 23 bouts, the reign of the “Princess” came to an emphatic end as she tasted defeat for the first time. For Hisae Watanabe, it was a definitive moment, a career high as she made history as DEEPs first Lightweight (48kg) women’s champion.
The following year, 2007, Watanabe announced retirement, citing marriage and her desire to start a family. After briefly returning to the ring in 2016 for another sensational knockout followed by a majority draw, it appeared that the KO Queen had elected to step away from the sport for good.
The Shooto Atomweight (47.6kg) Infinity League Tournament
Infinity League tournaments have become a staple of Shooto as of late. For the women’s Atomweight Infinity League Tournament the stakes are high as the tournament winner will also be crowned the new division’s inaugural champion. Utilizing a round-robin style format, all fighters in the tournament get an opportunity to square off against each other in a points based system. Prioritizing finishes, 3 points are awarded for a stoppage. A win merits 2, a draw 1 and losing simply means no points earned. The format is designed to render the overall winner’s claim to the throne unquestionable.
Shooto announced 4 of the 5 participants in October. Ferocious striker Miku Nakamura, who fell short in her quest for Super Atomweight gold, drops weight to try her hand in her 2nd Infinity League tournament. Decorated wrestler Chihiro Sawada, sister of the renowned Ryuto Sawada, may be short on experience but has enormous potential, the world class wrestler is also a fully fledged MMA practitioner. The youngest participant, debuting Haruna Kato is an 18 years old with an affinity for MMA. Entering All Japan Amateur Championships at the age of 16 the gifted high school student possesses extraordinary talent. Okinawa’s first professional female Shooter, Yuki Ono placed 3rd in 2019 All Japan Amateur Championships before making her pro debut. Active in the Okinawan scene, the all-rounder is best known for her grappling and submission acumen.
To get the tournament/ball rolling Shooto elected to hold 1 Infinity League bout at Shooto 2021 vol 7. 2 of the tournament favorites, Chihiro Sawada and Miku Nakamura clashed in a hotly contested war. With an array of textbook takedowns and ground and pound, the elite wrestler Sawada edged the “Northern Striker,” earning a majority decision win and securing 2 points.
The Wildcard 5th Entrant Revealed, Iconic Legend Makes a Comeback!
Before the Sawada vs Nakamura match got underway there was a bit of a surprise for the fans in attendance. Whispers could be heard around the venue as an unassuming looking lady entered the ring with her daughter.
“For those who know me and those who do not, I am Hisae Watanabe and I’ve come back to liven things up a bit” the unexpected guest announced.
Taking to the mic, Watanabe oozed confidence despite her time away. “I’ll be -47.6kg, which is my best weight. I think it’s safe to say that it was established for me,” the 41 year old pioneer asserted. Unfazed by the other participants, the heavy handed striker threw down the gauntlet, offering a bold declaration, “I will win every match by KO and have the belt around my waist!”
Return to Training and Fortuitous Timing
When she stepped away from the ring Watanabe left training and fighting behind, firmly focused on bringing up her daughter as a single mother. The former Kickboxer confessed that she had never stepped foot in a gym during her time away until an opportunity as a part time personal trainer presented itself in the Summer. It was not long until the hunger to compete took over and the timing of the Infinity League was perfect. The mother of 1 will adopt the ring name “kuon,” which translates to “zero” or “infinity.” A symbol of a new beginning, a fresh start and a name that ties in with the tournament.
“Now that my daughter is older, I have a better environment to train in,” she explained to the fans in attendance. Despite starting her training in the Fall the striking sensation believes she will have ample time to prepare. The length of the tournament also allows some leeway for continued development. “The league tournament takes exactly one year, so I think I will be able to wear the belt in one year,” Watanabe stated, adding, ”I’m going to KO all the fights and win the belt, so please support me.”
An audacious claim but more than just simple rhetoric or fight hype, with reports that the 41 year old is hitting harder than ever, her prediction may just come to pass. One thing is certain, the format of the competition and points allocation suits the Kickboxers go-for-broke, lights out style perfectly.
Date and Opponent Set for Infinity League Match
Shooto very recently revealed that Hisae Watanabe will step into the cage to face Haruna Kato for her Infinity League opening bout, January 16th, 2022. The oldest and most experienced competitor will meet the debuting high school student as veteran KO artist collides with next generation MMA genius.