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Headquartered in scenic Woodloch, Texas, the Mixed Martial Arts
Hall of [email protected]#$%&g Awesome (HOFA for short) commemorates the
achievements of those fighters who, while they might not be
first-ballot selections for a traditional hall of fame, nonetheless
did remarkable things in the cage or ring, and deserve to be
remembered. The HOFA enshrines pioneers, one-trick ponies and
charming oddballs, and celebrates them in all their imperfect
glory. While the HOFA selection committee’s criteria are mysterious
and ever-evolving, the final test is whether the members can say,
unanimously and with enthusiasm, “____________ was [email protected]#$%&g
awesome!”

* * *


“I like winning by submission better. I think it’s less
damaging to submit somebody.”
Megumi
Fujii


THE PITCH: It is worth noting that Fujii delivered
the quote above immediately after a 20-second win over Serin
Murray
in which she broke her opponent’s leg with a toe hold.
As an example of just how kinetic, dynamic—and, yes, sometimes
damaging—the grappling arts can be, it would be difficult to top
the body of work left by the diminutive wrecking machine.

A judoka from early childhood who later branched out into sambo,
Brazilian jiu-jitsu and catch wrestling, Fujii debuted in MMA in
2004 under the Smackgirl (now known as Jewels) banner and made short work of Yumi
Matsumoto
, tapping her with a rear-naked choke in just 40
seconds. It was to become something of a pattern, as Fujii went on
to win her first 22 fights, 18 of them by submission and 16 of
those in the first round. She pulled off this feat—one that is
unlikely ever to be equaled—despite being visibly undersized, even
in her “natural” strawweight class, and in spite of making
early-career forays into the flyweight and even bantamweight
divisions in search of opponents.

While it may be tempting to look at Fujii’s body of work and
compare her to Kazushi
Sakuraba
, another Japanese legend who used a crafty ground game
to prevail over larger opponents, they are similar only in the
broadest strokes. Underneath the surface, the differences are
stark. Where Sakuraba’s style was free-wheeling, showman-like and
creative to the point of slapstick at times—a perfect match for his
professional wrestling-influenced persona and humorous
personality—Fujii was all business. Her approach was methodical,
practical and ruthless. It is impossible to win 22 straight fights
in a sport as unpredictable as MMA without at least a modicum of
luck, but what was remarkable in watching Fujii is how little she
left to chance.

Fight after fight, Fujii seemed to never make a mistake or let
herself be put in any more danger than necessary. She simply used
her arsenal of shots, trips and throws—and the occasional Imanari
roll—to get the fight to the ground, whereupon she passed to a
dominant position, softened her opponent with punches if necessary
and then locked up an armbar or choke. All of this was accomplished
as quickly as possible, and any “wow” factor would have to come
from the cleanliness of her technique and her sheer speed and
physical prowess. It was enough; at her best, Fujii resembled
something like a cross between a Powerpuff Girl and the T-1000 of
“Terminator 2” fame.

In the end, Fujii was hampered by being born a decade too soon.
Already 30 by the time of her MMA debut, she witnessed the lighter
women’s divisions come into their own as she closed in on 40. For
much of her career, those divisions were ephemeral at best; though
she could have made Jewels’ 48-kilogram (105.8 pound) atomweight
limit with ease, the division was so thin that it barely existed.
While Fujii fought virtually every top strawweight of her era and
racked up dominant wins over some notable women, including future
Jewels champions Seo Hee Ham
and Mei
Yamaguchi
and inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship 115-pound champ
Carla
Esparza
, she ultimately lacked a true foil, an opponent who
might push her to her limit and highlight her greatness in the
process.

Fujii was 36 by the time there was a North American promotion with
an actual strawweight division and the wherewithal to sign her to a
multi-fight contract. She was the odds-on favorite to win Bellator MMA’s inaugural 115-pound title and made
short work of her opponents in the first three rounds before
running into Zoila
Frausto
in the final. After five bruising rounds that left both
women black-and-blue, Frausto emerged with a split decision victory
and the belt. MMA’s greatest streak was over.

Fujii fought on for another three years after that first loss and
remained at the highest level, picking up quality wins over such
women as Yamaguchi and Emi Fujino,
interspersed with two controversial losses to Jessica
Aguilar
. After the second of those defeats—a technical majority
decision loss at Vale Tudo Japan after Fujii was rendered unable to
continue by multiple eye pokes—“Mega Megu” hung up the gloves for
good in October 2013. She was 39 years old, 26-3 and had been a top
pound-for-pound fighter for most of her career.

SIGNATURE MOMENTS: It is an interesting exercise
to try and pick a single highlight, or a few, out of Fujii’s
career: There are a whole lot of submissions. Many of them are
armbars, most of them are dazzling in setup and execution and
almost all of them feel as inevitable as the sunrise. However,
there is beauty in some of the distinctions. The leg-breaking toe
hold win over Murray is impressive as well as startling—impressive
for the way Fujii sets up her leglock entry with a high front kick
and no telegraphing of her intentions and startling when Murray
crawls off after the stoppage, dragging her maimed limb like an
animal struck by a car. Years later, it still crops up on lists of the nastiest injuries
in MMA history.

As for a competitive high-water mark, that is more difficult to
pinpoint for a woman who may have been the best fighter in the
world for three or four years. However, one notable moment is the
night she defeated Ham in the second round of the Smackgirl 2008
Grand Prix. The win itself was classic Fujii, as she ducked under
an early charge by the hyper-aggressive “Hamderlei Silva,” hustled
her to the ground and took her back within seconds. After
threatening with a rear-naked choke, she peeled off for a textbook
armbar. It was all over in three and a half minutes of grappling
dominance.



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However impressive, the win is also notable as another example of
the timing that plagued Fujii’s career. The victory punched Fujii’s
ticket to the final—or would have, except that Smackgirl went out
of business almost immediately afterward. A new investor bought the
company within months and rechristened it Jewels. While Fujii was
brought on board and fought in the first Jewels event, the new
promotion neither continued the grand prix nor started a new one,
and in fact, it would not even crown a strawweight champion for
another two years. In effect, Fujii spent those years as the
consensus best strawweight in the world when there was literally no
title for her to win.

As a final footnote on Fujii’s tantalizing bridging of eras,
Ham—the woman she defeated so easily that night—is the Rizin Fighting Federation 108-pound champion
and Sherdog’s No. 1-ranked fighter in her weight class at the time
of this induction.

THE HOFA COMMITTEE SAYS: The only real question
facing the committee when it comes to “Mega Megu” is whether she
was too accomplished to qualify for the hall. After all, any
conventional hall of fame worth the name—assuming we ever get
one—would induct her on the first ballot. In the end, a truly
remarkable career that took place largely out of the view of
Western fans tipped the decision in her favor, especially in light
of the twists of fate that conspired to keep her from ever winning
a title. For as long as the HOFA claims to welcome pioneers, there
must be a place for a fighter like Fujii—even if she is an all-time
great, as well.

It is with great pleasure that we say: Megumi “Mega Megu” Fujii,
you are [email protected]#$%&g awesome.

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