Accuracy, power, conditioning, discipline and years of hard work are some of the known attributes that are required when competing in combat sports such mixed martial arts (MMA), boxing, karate and wrestling. So what exactly is a combat sport? A combat sport is also known as a fighting sport and the name itself is self-explanatory. It is a competitive contact sport with one-on- one combat. These combat sports are often associated with men as sports of this kind have long been entrenched in a boy’s mentality and there are taboos in stopping women from competing in them. However, women are not shying away from this and society is slowly starting to accept it. It is certainly not for the weak and these female combat athletes can vouch for that. Top 10 of Asia takes a look at its list of the top ten of these fearless and brave women who risk life and limb to put on a show for screaming spectators, and to prove that making it big in the international arena of combat sports is not only for their male counterparts.
1) Angela Lee
Born in Vancouver to a Singaporean father and a South Korean mother, martial arts was already in Angela Lee’s blood as both her parents were decorated martial artists. Angela began training and competing at the tender age of 7 and at only 21 years old now, she is taking the world by storm and has already won many titles the under her belt, including the World MMA Awards 2015 Female Fighter of the Year. She also became the youngest person ever to win a world title in MMA, earning comparisons with some of the great names in combat sports, namely Mike Tyson.
Kanako Urai, better known by her ring name Asuka or Kana, has competed in numerous professional wrestling promotions across the United States and Japan over the years. The Japanese powerhouse is known to be one of the best in the business and that caught the attention of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the biggest wrestling organization in the world, which signed her to a developmental deal in 2015. She now holds the WWE NXT Women’s championship which is added to her countless number of championships won throughout her career. Her flamboyant and unique in-ring personality is what makes her a fan favourite and certainly one of the best Asian female pro wrestlers in history.
3) Rena Kubota
Born in Osaka, Kubota began kickboxing training in 6 th grade. She started off with kickboxing and despite losing in her debut match, she decided to dabble in shoot boxing, which is a combat sport that allows kicks, punches, knees, elbows, throws and standing submissions. This was where she found her momentum going and she is now widely considered the face of female shoot boxing. She is a 4-time Girl’s S-Cup winner and although she has not stepped into the MMA circuit, she has defeated a number of MMA fighters in a Shoot Boxing ring.
4) Ayaka Hamasaki
Fighting out of Tokyo, Ayaka Hamasaki, a kickboxer and mixed martial artist, did her country proud when she became the first Asian to ever win a North American premier MMA promotion title. She quickly made a name for herself after establishing a winning streak, but what made her a real threat was when she submitted veteran Lacey Schuckman. Fight Matrix, a comprehensive fighter ranking system portal, ranks her as the number 1 atomweight fighter in the world. Although she has achieved a lot, she is not quite done yet as she wishes to join the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) one day to prove herself worthy in the Octagon.
5) Ann Osman
Ann ‘Athena’ Osman certainly did Malaysia proud and became a role model for budding mixed martial artists when she became the first Malaysian female mixed martial artist to be signed to Asia’s biggest MMA promotion, ONE Fighting Championship. The ambitious and charismatic girl from Sabah also takes pride in becoming the first Muslim female fighter to be competing in an international MMA arena. She is currently one of the top ranking fighters in ONE FC’s female division and despite some criticism, she broke down barriers, pushed away stereotypes and assured the nonbelievers that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a Muslim female pursuing a combat sport.
6) Mei Yamaguchi
Yamaguchi was born in Tokyo, but lived for a few years in the United States before returning to Japan. While she was in the US, she picked up karate, longing to be like her favourite actor, Jackie Chan. Her college years were spent with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training but her professional MMA debut only came a few years later. Among the championships she has won since her debut includes the Deep Jewels Atomweight Champion, the Valkyrie Featherweight Champion among others. Her fight against Angela Lee in 2016 was also credited as the Fight of the Month.
7) Ayako Hamada
Hamada is a professional wrestler of Japanese and Mexican descent and is known for winning notable titles all over Japan. She also caught the attention of the American crowd when she wrestled in Total Nonstop Action wrestling where she held the TNA Knockout Tag Team championship twice. She is a second generation wrestler, the daughter of Gran Hamada, former lucha libre style wrestler. Her stint in Pro Wrestling Wave was one to remember as her first title win had a reign of 270 days, the longest in the title’s history. She currently wrestles in Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide which is based in Mexico and is known for its eccentric gimmicks and extreme matches.
8) Io Shirai
Don’t let her sweet face fool you. Shirai can suplex almost anyone out there. Masami Odate, better known by her ring name Io Shirai is considered by many to be one of the top female wrestlers today so much so that even WWE has taken an interest in her, calling her in for a tryout. Shirai spent years wrestling for various promotions across Japan and Mexico where she teamed up with her older sister Mio in tag team matches. She broke out into her own as a singles competitor a few years later where she won the World Wonder Ring Stardom’s top championship, one which she held for over a year. Tokyo Sports even named her the 2016 women’s wrestler of the year, proving that she can shine on her own without having a partner by her side.
9) Michelle Waterson
Nicknamed ‘The Karate Hottie’, Waterson competes in UFC and is a former Invicta FC Atomweight Champion. Born in Colorado to a Thai mother and Caucasian father, she has a background in Wushu, Muay Thai Karate and holds a black belt in karate. She made the transition from modelling to mixed martial arts at a young age and she was formerly ranked the number 1 pound-for- pound female MMA fighter in the world but took a break during her pregnancy. She was also featured in a music video for Megadeth where the song was fittingly called, Head Crusher.
10) Seo Hee Ham
Nicknamed Arale-chan in reference to her looks resembling the manga and anima series, Dr Slump, the South Korean mixed martial artist and kickboxer has participated in MMA promotions – Deep, Smackgirl, ROAD FC and Jewels and is currently ranked as the second best female atomweight fighter in the world. As there are not many females to spar with in Korea, she regularly trains with male fighters. She has even defeated male fighters in the past, proving that whatever a male can do, a female can do too!