Former Smackgirl Middleweight Champion Hitomi “Girlfight Monster” Akano has officially retired from mixed martial arts. The 39-year-old announced the news on her blog on Thursday morning. She leaves the sport following a successful career that dates back to her professional debut in late 2004.
Akano took a full year to think about her decision before ultimately opting to retire. The judoka was one of Japan’s most successful female mixed martial artists to date. Of Akano’s 18 victories, 14 came via submission, and she scored key wins over some of MMA’s top female fighters during her career.
Akano (18-10-0) debuted as an amateur fighter for Smackgirl in 2004. She turned pro in November and went on to win eight of her first ten fights. Training alongside Megumi Fujii at the Abe Ani Combat Club, Akano developed her overall game, but her primary strengths remained on the ground and the armbar was her preferred finishing hold. On September 15, 2006, she used her signature submission to capture the Smackgirl Middleweight Championship at 128 pounds by defeating American Molly Helsel.
During the next six years, Akano faced many of the sport’s biggest female names. She handed fellow ex-Smackgirl champion Hiroko Yamanaka the first defeat of her career in April 2008 and moved up to challenge Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in a controversial Strikeforce bout one year later. Justino badly missed weight for the fight and towered over her smaller opponent, but Akano refused to give in and she survived until the third round of the mismatched bout.
In the semi-final round of the 2010 Strikeforce women’s bantamweight tournament, Akano used a slick triangle armbar to submit Brazilian Carina Damm. The win propelled Akano into the tournament final, but she dropped a close decision to eventual champion Miesha Tate. Akano returned to Japan and picked up back-to-back victories including a decision win over Roxanne Modafferi.
Though Akano’s final two fights ended in defeats, both bouts came against high-level opponents. Akano was bested by unbeaten Olympic silver medallist Sara McMann at ProElite 3 and she suffered the only submission loss of her career when she was defeated by Alexis Davis at Invicta FC 2 on July 28, 2012. The bout with Davis left Akano wondering whether it was time to call it a career.
“I quit AACC on July 31st,” Akano wrote on her blog. “It was fun to compete against strong opponents, and my teammates and opponents were all really strong. The time spent preparing for fights with my precious teammates is irreplaceable. I felt that I would not compete again after my Invicta fight, and Jewels tried to make a [retirement] ceremony for me, but I could not decide at the last minute.
“I’m grateful that people were so patient during this time while waiting for me to make my decision. I want to express many thanks to all of the supporters of my career. Thank you to everyone.”
Akano leaves the sport mere months before her mentor and training partner, Fujii, plans to do the same. Fujii will compete one final time at Vale Tudo Japan 3rd on October 5th before joining her former AACC teammate in retirement. Both women have been instrumental in training the next generation of female fighters at AACC including Jewels champion Ayaka Hamasaki and highly-touted prospect Megumi Sugimoto, who makes her pro MMA debut later this month.
(Photo Credit: Jewels blog)