It’s not very often you get to understand the depth of the sacrifice, solitude and discipline an athlete in mma must go through to make that 15 or 25 minutes walk to the center of the arena, or in this case just 4 minutes including the Walkout! All for the excitement, and for us to simply be entered! 

But this story is all about giving you a small insight into that journey, and what goes into providing you the joys of our amazing sport!

And perhaps why we are all so passionate about it!

Getting the call for the RIZIN GP!

I remember it perfectly, when I got a text from Andy!

As giddy as a kid with a sugar rush, when she found out she had been chosen to fight Rena Kubota for the first ever WMMA RIZIN World GP. Not only did this mean that she had left a good impression with her last outing for the promotion and fans but it was an opportunity for some big money!

For the un-initiated in the west, Rena is the Japanese Ronda Rousey, or Miesha Tate. The biggest female athlete in Asia you can fight!

She has Nike, phone company deals, tv commercials, regularly appears on tv shows, and is a young good looking fighter, who has never lost at Atomweight in an MMA or kickboxing fight, and the promotion RIZIN have built an entire WMMA Tournament around her!

*Above is Rena promoting FarCry4 (Don’t ask it’s Japan! LoL)

With big prize money for the final winner in the NYE Show just like Crop Cops Tournament win for the last one, where he was awarded giant novelty cheque’s, around the world holidays, $300’k watches, and an endless list of goodies!

This meant that for Andy, her last showing had clearly gotten the attention of their number 1 superstar. Given that for the 1st round the host nation choose opponents, meaning Rena chose Andy as her 1st match-up to headline the card with her. (Presumably Rena did this for the ratings in the match-up. Later in a separate TV interview she also hinted at wanting to restore some pride to Japan since Andy had taken a big win over a very high profile fighting family name in Japan in her ‘Yamamoto” win).

Andy’s LAST weigh in video with the other girls got over a million YouTube views and her Walkout to her previous RIZIN fight certainly won the walkouts for the night. (American woman, where she danced around  on stage with a Bright pink cowboy hat!).

Something RIZIN, and their fans ALWAYS enjoy is a little self expression! – Naturally if you have seen any of their opening ceremonies going right back to the PRIDE era, you will know the Japanese fans love the theatrics and involvement of fans into fighter integration during the shows as much as the technical skill side of the matches. (perhaps this is why the UFC has yet to crack this massive Asian market by comparison?)

For example, when a fighter wins there is no interview they simply get a microphone and have “earnt the right” to address the arena and say whatever they want, to the company to the fans, to anyone!

Below is Charles Bennett’s classic example of this last year as he has had an ongoing beef with Wanderlei Silva dating right back to Pride.

On Andy’s last outing for the promotion we also got to see a ‘new submission’ on stage, so Andy got to name it, the 1st self named “CrandyBar” armbar/shoulder lock submission win by Andy.

So while it was definitely an exciting phone call there was a lot of work to do to match her last outing! – The fight is half the battle winning the crowd is just as important over there!

The work begins!

Andy, Donny Aaron (her coach) and Andrea Lee her corner and key training partner, and her home in Karate Mafia set to work on Andy ‘the fighter’ with a game plan and strategy with a few months to work. knowing this would easily be the biggest fight Andy had ever faced to date.

I offered to help out a little, and Andy ended up getting in some great wrestling from one of the best in the business Sharon Jacobson. (Anyone who loves people getting picked-up and slammed DC style, go watch a Sharon Fight on Fightpass. That gal is scary slamming! An absolute monster in the grappling!)

 


Putting that ‘el nacho’ wrastlin time in with Sharon, and heading back to Karate Mafia to gel in the striking and making a strategy to put it all together. Andy took a few days out to catch up with her family and friends between flights across the country.

Literally a FEW DAYS, I cannot stress that enough.

Every day I would be in contact it was train, eat healthy, rest, train, rest, eat, rinse and repeat. The dedication is truly a lifestyle. This was something I had always known but to hear it day after day that’s when it really sinks in.

These athlete’s are chasing their passion, its definitely not money driven. The financial gain is if they are lucky enough to end up “popular” or near the “top” where people notice them and like their them enough for product endorsements.

As the difference between skill levels for so many is minute, or simply one mistake in a match, or not having the best coach, or just not being 100% on the night (I will get to that later).

So let’s fast forward the daily drills and the morning cardio sessions, afternoon pads or wrestling, BJJ or sparring sessions, and move to 3 hard months later, a few ‘nice’ little jabs by Rena’s verbal polite Japanese sparring words, and some attempted returns by Andy with some pushing….

Because Andy can’t trash talk, even if her opponent hit her in the face. I think she might say sorry her head was in the way, and then let it ALL out in the ring instead,  but until then feel bad for her opponents hand?? That’s literally Andy.  Just no bad bones in her body at all, until the fight is on and until the fight stops…. She is definitely a happy fighter.

 *Rena is being interviewed on TV essentially saying that while she thinks Andy is a good opponent she will win and keep the pride for Japan given that Andy defeated Miyu Yamamoto in her last performance.

 

Flight to Fight

While Andrea was busy packing lots of things not needed for Japan, Donny packing random stuff the poor guy had the flu. (Sorry Andrea just going off what I’m told! 😁)

I was meeting up with them and had 1 job to pack some caps and promo stuff for the competition winner of the #VIP RIZIN TICKET WINNER we had organised! (Guess who ended up bringing those cause I forgot??) Yah, Andy seems to be the most organized packer as well! – I had one job! One job!

On a side note, mind you over the 2 months amongst her training. Andy and I had been going back and forth on ideas with her Walkout theme and clothing costume, competitions and all sorts of other stuff etc…

Or more accurately, I would suggest things, then she would suggest something 10 times better and we would just tinker with that idea instead!

So she definitely has had her hands full for the fight from game planning to training’s to competitions and clothing!

Check in and cut in! Let the weight cut begin!

Sadly this part of her 3 month preparation, did not go as well as her last trip over to Japan. Her PRE flight cut was on track perfectly, I was even jokingly calling her eggy because that was essentially her meals stuffed in her pockets over the flight (hard boiled eggs and bottled water).

But her flight out was only 48 hours from the weigh ins and some of you may know that being on a plane simply dries out your body but obviously sitting in a seat you cannot re-hydrate and exercise or sauna it out, your body will simply start to hold water again. So not exactly a good thing unless you have a few days between the scales and the flight!

So long story short, after 2 flights and close to a full day in the air. Andy landed and was due to weigh in the following morning! She was able to get to within 200 grams or 0.441 of a pound of title weight. (Think of about ‘roughly’ half a can of coke!)

Now contrary to many people’s ‘beliefs’, for little amounts like this given such high profile promotions at stake. Most promotions just have fighters agree to the tiny amount over or worst case take a % of the overweight athletes fight purse as per bout agreements so that the fights don’t fall out and PPV sales and TV deals aren’t impacted over fractions of weight. And quite often the public are not even aware of the minor weight difference even in a title fight.

We all remember MAJOR such instances like the DC towel issue, or an athlete being 2 pounds over but amazingly making it 2 hrs later after a 2nd attempt? Which is virtually impossible in reality.

These are the 2 fighters merely coming to a ‘yep let’s just fight or a take a % of my purse agreement’… And again it’s usually written into big bout agreements that a minor % such as a .025 of a pound is still within limits to permit the title fight etc, unless “both” stipulate it must be exact weight or under or a purse % in the contract conditions come into effect.

But this seemed to not be “good enough” for Rena’s camp, and a demand to re weigh in the following morning to keep the fight on was the only alternative Rena’s management were happy with. Money was not an issue or option. This is extremely unusual and puts the promotion in a VERY hard spot.

In fairness, while this is absolutely devastating for Andy and rather unusual, as it only gives her the actual fight day to recover and eat and drink, vs Rena’s 2 day’s of weight gain, thus making for a very unfair competition.

I must admit if I felt I needed to give Rena every advantage possible in a tough match up, I too would have passed on the fight purse % too, as Rena needs to keep the win streak much more than the money. And for Rena a loss would be devastating! We all saw what happened after Ronda’s 0 went. Rena is currently 19-0 in the shoot boxing promotion (as an atom weight) and 5-0 in Rizin at atom-weight!

 

Andy was not even sure if she was going to be allowed to fight, right up until the fight day, there was tears the night before, speeches from the owner who wanted the fight to take place, telling her to try to be happy, and remember her “joy and warrior spirit” above all else, as he just wanted her to be happy, so if she ended up fighting she could be in a good place and not to worry about anything else. To be in such a tough spot RIZIN treated all parties extremely well I thought, they really did put the fighter 1st, it was quite inspiring to see behind their mechanics.

AMAZINGLY Andy still did the mock weigh ins still unsure if she would even fight, (her official weigh in was 200 grams over!) and she still gathered enough energy to meet the VIP competition winner, and have dinner with us afterwards.

Well watch us have dinner (no food or drink for her yet!) while she met the competition winner, and waited for a call from the matchmaker to see if she WAS going to fight!

After Andrea waited for an hour long duck dish without the duck. Seriously there was no pluck in the duck?! Strangest duck meal ever! They could have killed the duck and thrown it away except for the skin and barbecued the skin or whatever they did?

4 phone calls mid meal to Andy, and eventually the facade  slowly started to drop, and it became clear that Andy was still not sure if the fight was on….

The fatigue, jetlag, lack of food and water were all starting to pile up and you could see she was doing everything she could to just hold it together.

One final call and she excused herself and had to rush off to go and get re weighed, and then was told she would be able to fight with a 10am “re weigh in” in on fight day. As per requested by her opponent. Not 6 or 7 or 8am, but 10am! And with that she clocked out and hit the pillow around 9ish

Drained from the flight, timezone adjustments, media and no food or water, Andy just went to bed hoping to wake up and be done with it, and ready to get back on track, to fight in the morning after weighing in.

The competition winner was a pretty good guy, he helped actually gather some of the things needed for Andy’s re-hydration and recovery after she had left so it would be there for the following day. We went and got did some quick shopping while Andrea went to check on Andy.

It’s moments like these that really hit home to me it’s not JUST the training and the fight week stress these athletes go through, it’s also the pressure they put on EACHOTHER just to gain any advantage they can to win and then of course the promotion’s become the mediators.

There really is a lot of juggling to deal with in such a short space of time all before the show goes live. And it’s not the lighting or sounds and  fireworks which Pride and now Rizin are famous for, but back to everyday human negotiations that every promotion deals with, and must overcame.

Someare easy because athletes have been through it a lot before. Others are harder because the promotion is dealing with representatives not the athlete directly, so they are pushing for every ounce and advantage possible. It’s part of life a of doing business. But it certainly adds to the stress levels all around that’s for sure.

I remember first arriving for a comparison, and  seeing Frank Shamrock, who also arrived the same day. Just look for a quiet seat at the downstairs lounge bar to chat with his coach. He had seen so many of these, nothing would upset him. It was just all in a days travel like a businessman  on a work trip.

But for Andy her opponent had maximized her advantage of a late flight into Japan and put Andy in a VERY VERY bad place.

I was more concerned about her health, than the fight by this point, but clearly her team knew what she is capable of, and while it might not have been a fully re-hydrated fighter on the day, they were still comfortable with the recovery time as was Andy, and they were prepared to go in and get a job done to put on a show!

Fight Night

I met up with the VIP winner and Andy had managed to get us some excellent tickets just behind the owner and his wife. The typical opening ceremony was something special to witness as with all Rizin openings. This one in particular they made use of “dose” sound waves built into the music.

For those who aren’t familiar with this, they are sound waves that run at certain patterns or frequencies and are designed to trick your brain into a certain response. This one for example had a very heavy BASE with a slightly faster than normal heart beat, so whether you wanted to or not it meant your heart would slowly begin to pump blood faster in sync with the music base and thus you get an “adrenaline rush” with it.

Very smartly put together, by the time you add in the fireworks, lighting and giant imagery with the laser show it really puts you on the edge of your seat!

But right at the end, that was when my heart sank a little, when I saw Andy walking out as the 2nd last athlete to exit as she had a very flat look about her.

Having only weighed in a few hours earlier and just beginning her re-hydration process. There was still 8 hours before she was due to fight, it was a massive card and huge day of fights, but I would be lying if I said I was not still concerned she would be OK to go by then, she wasn’t jumping out like all the other athletes she simply walked out flat footed and bowed and walked back away.

 

On with the show!

While we had no choice but to sit there and enjoy the show and in the back of our minds just wonder how her recovery was going. I got 2 texts. the 1st was – I’ve had some food and i’m going to get some sleep.

Some of the fights were really awesome! Again for the people unfamiliar with Rizin it’s PRIDE based rules (so soccer kicks and knees to grounded opponents, but no elbows). But the best ting I have found is that they have really kept the “spirit” of making sure the crowd is entertained and engaged in the event.

For example, we got to see King Reina give her ritual winning present to the owner. And her walkout of “No fucks Given” is literally one of the best going around!

Just before the Sakuraba match we got another text from Andy asking if we could find any coffee, as she couldn’t leave the dressing rooms. She said she was feeling better. I’ll admit I still wasn’t convinced, but we got the coffee to Andrea to pass along. While I got stuck into some sort of BBQ pork on a stick that was probably the best fast food I have ever eaten!

The new upstart for Japan Tenshin put on a spectacular fight in the co-main event proving that he is certainly a true prodigy to watch.

Andy’s time!

Then out came Andy, she was all pumped up and wooed the crowed dancing down the ramp throwing the guitar into the crowd along with her cowboy cap and Fukuoka Jersey (the local baseball team)! She looked a MILLION times better than the zombie I had seen just 24 hours ago, like a totally different person. Crazy how quickly these athletes can recover!

Her last Walkout had earned her a bit of a reputation of somewhat of a Walkout “Queen” now for always coming up with something creative that creates an instant atmosphere for her fights.

And this one was no different. It was picked up by lots of local and international media as an entertaining expression of her own “warrior spirit” !

Even the Japanese commentary team brought up her outfit, if I had to guess it might have had something to do with the pho noodle bowl on her back that was helping rep her website!

Then came out Rena, she was jumping around and had a “personalized song” it wasn’t as entertaining or engaging as a lot of the other entrances but Rena is not known as a fan entertainer she’s known for never having lost.

The fight began, both were trading feeling out jabs and lower leg kicks. Rena was getting the odd jab in but not much beyond a feel out process. Then out of the blue Andy caught a kick and slammed her into side control.

After a few punches and some nice defense by Rena she was able to regain guard. Andy was still able to land some solid ground and pound from the guard and the forced Rena to give her back in a transition to try and avoid the damage while shrimping to an escape.

 

Andy was quick to capitalize and sunk in the  body triangle and briefly got her arm under Rena’s neck before Rena was able to grab an arm and slowly regain her composure while Andy was punching her in the head from the back with the body triangle.

Essentially the entire stadium was silent in awe except for about 20 people cheering!

To Rena’s credit she took the punches well and slowly was able to turn into the triangle forcing the stand-up.

It was at this point where Rena is at her best in the clinch close range. Andy found herself standing in the corner of the ring, after taking a barrage of shots, but she was able to push kick Rena off her and recompose her position.

But Rena was quick to recognize the advantageous position and that it was clear were it to go to the ground it was going to be Andy’s fight if it was to stay on the feet the odds stacked in Rena’s favor.

So she bull rushed Andy and willing to take a few shots on the way in went right back to work at close range, to the body to the head punches in bunches.

Andy fired back but the punching speed of Rena started taking a toll and Andy started to cover up and was defending well until a perfect shot to the liver landed and just shut Andy down and the ref stepped in for safety. Rena’s decades of striking had saved the day and brought her another victory from the claws of a close defeat!

It was 3 months of hard work, lots of drama and tears, stress and emotions that all came to fruition in a total of just over 4 minutes. The fight itself was extremely entertaining and quite close.

It was just one mistake on each fighters end that nearly cost them both the fight. At the end of the day Rena was simply able to capitalize on hers, be it luck, timing, the weight cut issue, whatever it was. Rena was the victor and winner on the day, that’s just the sport and why you can never really do mma “math” in pairing who will always beat who.

I am quite confident that given the performance they put on, especially with Andy’s walkouts and Rena keeping her unbeaten streak alive but in such a CLOSE fight, that the Japanese fans would enjoy a rematch down the road at some point. Especially the way they look at martial arts. Not just as wins and losses but as in great fights and entertaining athletes that can put on a show. 

It’s why you see these crazy weight difference fights or extremely unique athletes enter the sport. Because the athletes do it for the fame or the crowd and to show their “warrior spirit” the money just “comes to the good ones, its not about racking up W after W and playing it safe.

It’s about putting yourself out there in and outside of the cage and letting the fans judge you and hoping they like who you are and what you want to represent.

The Finals of the atom-weight tournament is over 2 days for the traditional NYE events.

It is highly expected that Rena will take home the 1st ever tournament comfortably now that Andy is out, but it’s still a fight! So we will only know at the very end…

On wards to another event..

After the fight, we all had some drinks, with a few of the other fighters and coaches, shared some stories, and generally just relaxed and the athletes let the stress out. We said our goodbyes, and everyone headed their own directions for the next adventure.

As for Andy…. It was a small well deserved holiday to Cancun! 🙂

She’s now heading back over to KING OF THE CAGE to some promo work awaiting her next fight.

Full Fight is here: