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Megumi Fujii inspired by Carla Esparza’s championship success: ‘She gives us hope’

“She’s been in this for a long time and I was definitely rooting for her because she’s been competing at the top end for such a long time.”

Megumi Fujii is arguably the toughest possible opponent a young upstart could face early in their career.

Competing in Bellator’s 2010 Strawweight tournament, Fujii was on track to capture her first mixed martial arts (MMA) title after years of dominance with a flawless 19-fight unbeaten streak. “Mega Megu” made a career out of fighting and defeating opponents typically much larger than herself as divisions were still being established for women during the 2000s. A natural 105-pound Atomweight, Fujii dispatched of Sara Schneider in her Bellator debut via technical knockout before facing a new bright prospect on the block, Carla Esparza, in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

With only three fights under her belt, Esparza put up a valiant effort against her all-time great opponent, but ultimately came up short when forced to tap to a second round armbar submission. While Fujii was arguably robbed of a title victory in the tournament’s finals later that year, Esparza has since gone on to become a two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) titlist.

Seeing how things have unfolded all these years later, Fujii, 48, is pleased to see a relatable fighter like “The Cookie Monster” manage to find such levels of success.

“She’s been in this for a long time and I was definitely rooting for her because she’s been competing at the top end for such a long time,” Fujii told MMA Mania on BROADENED HORIZIN. “When we fought, I think it was only her third or fourth fight, but she’s been in it for a long time. She loses some then she wins some.

“For me, for her to be — she’s not a big girl,” she continued. “She’s not tall, she’s short, but she still performs well. So for me, she gives us hope that us Asians who are not too big and have small frames can compete at that level. So, I’ve always been rooting for her and it was definitely inspiring when I saw her get that belt for the second time.”

Esparza’s upcoming title defense at UFC 281 on Nov. 12, 2022, in Madison Square Garden is anticipated to be one of her toughest fights yet. Standing in her way is another former titleholder, Zhang Weili, who the majority of the MMA community favors heavily to reclaim the throne.

Watch the full episode in the video embedded above or you can listen on Spotify.



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