Now Refocused, Hitomi Akano Eyes Move To 125Three months ago, former Smackgirl Middleweight Champion Hitomi Akano stepped into a Strikeforce cage to take part in the promotion’s inaugural 135-pound women’s tournament. What few observers knew was that the “Girlfight Monster” planned to retire if she lost her first-round matchup.

Though she was unable to win the tournament, the AACC standout earned an impressive submission victory over Carina Damm in the opening round before dropping a competitive decision to Miesha Tate in the finals. Like Damm, Akano is now considering a return to her former weight class.

Akano (16-8-0) has been one of the top Japanese female fighters in the world for many years. All eight of the Megumi Fujii-trained fighter’s losses have come against elite opposition. Save for a disastrous mismatch against current Strikeforce Women’s Middleweight (145-Pound) Champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos in April of 2009, Akano has otherwise never been finished in her career. She holds wins over some of the sport’s top female fighters.

A talented songstress, Akano wrote her own entrance theme, “Between The Sky,” which became a staple of her career in the former Smackgirl promotion. It was there that she captured her first major title, the Smackgirl Middleweight (128-Pound) Championship, on September 15, 2006.

After losing her Smackgirl title to Takayo Hashi, a woman whom she defeated two years earlier, Akano would go on to win four of her next six fights; among them, victories over former rival Megumi Yabushita and current Jewels star Hiroko Yamanaka. However, a loss to Yamanaka in the pair’s March rematch led Akano to thoughts of retirement; something which she shared with close friends leading up to her return to Strikeforce in August. If she lost to Carina Damm in the opening round of the tournament, Akano felt that her time in MMA may have come to an end.

Instead, Akano put on a pair of excellent performances in her two tournament bouts; first submitting Damm with an impressive triangle armbar midway through the second round and later battling eventual champion Miesha Tate to a hard-fought decision in the tournament final. The bout with Tate drew rave reviews from fans and media alike, despite being contested almost entirely on the ground, and was one of the better female fights of 2010. Rejuvenated, Akano reconsidered her plans to retire.

On October 28th, Akano watched mentor and friend Megumi Fujii suffer her first defeat in heartbreaking fashion at Bellator 34 in Florida. Though she was initially frustrated, the loss motivated Fujii to train harder and get even better, and Akano now looks to do the same.

Whether she stays at 135 pounds or drops down in weight, however, is uncertain.

Akano spent much of her career at 128 pounds in Smackgirl before taking fights at higher weights in Strikeforce and Smackgirl’s successor, Jewels. She is now considering a return to her former weight class, though she has reservations about cutting all the way to 125. Strikeforce does not currently have a 125-pound women’s weight class, but other promotions in North America do have tentative plans to institute one in 2011.

Jewels utilises a variety of weights for their fights and Akano would be free to compete at a weight of her choosing when fighting for Jewels in Japan. The six-year veteran, who turned 36 in July, now faces a choice which could significantly impact her remaining time in the sport. One thing appears to be for certain, however. Retirement isn’t an option just yet.



(Photo Credit: Jewels blog)