ONE: Empower Sees Yamaguchi Fall, Hirata Advance in Atomweight Grand Prix

Itsuki Hirata and Alyse Anderson, ONE Championship: Empower
Alyse Anderson and Itsuki Hirata, ONE: Empower Credit: ONE Championship

ONE Championship’s women’s atomweight grand prix kicked off Friday, at the historic all-female Empower card.

With four quarterfinal bouts playing out, the stage was set for some of the top names in the division to advance towards a title shot against champ Angela Lee. As well, one tournament alternate bout was held Friday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium; that match-up saw Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi take on Julie Mezabarba.

Despite having won three grand prix tournaments earlier in her career, Friday simply wasn’t Yamaguchi’s night. Brazil’s Mezabarba, in her promotional debut, had a clear edge on the feet, and her takedown defense and clinch work was enough to keep the fight where she wanted it more often than not. Yamaguchi tried to work her opponent over along the fence, looking for takedowns, only to more often than not be turned, or eat knees and elbows for her troubles. In the final minute, knowing a finish was required, Yamaguchi let her hands go, but Mezabarba was easily able to avoid serious damage.

The Brazilian took home a unanimous decision victory in the end, locking up the tournament alternate spot in the process.

While one Japanese fighter in Yamaguchi fell at ONE: Empower, another found success in the opening round of the atomweight grand prix.

Itsuki Hirata was paired up against American Alyse Anderson, a larger opponent expected to be the undefeated prospect’s toughest test to date.

Hirata opened the action with a low kick, and immediately had to deal with a left hand from the American. The Japanese fighter held her own on the feet, but a bigger question was answered when Anderson pressed her opponent up against the cage.

Believed to have the edge in size and strength, Anderson found herself thrown to the mat shortly after initiating the clinch. That forced Anderson to work off her back, looking for a triangle while Hirata worked in ground n’ pound. Hirata landed most of the damage in the exchange, but Anderson did hit home with a couple of upkicks towards the end of the round, forcing Hirata off her.

Round two once again had Anderson throwing combos, as she had early in round one. But Hirata was still the fighter walking forward, and this time it was the Japanese fighter who initiated a clinch against the fence. A lovely hip toss planted Anderson on her back, with Hirata moving straight into side control.

Anderson showed impressive flexibility, snaking her body around into a head-scissors position before scrambling back to her feet, but Hirata stayed on her opponent and took the fight right back down, where she again moved to side control. Anderson rolled over her opponent out the back, only for Hirata to get back on top in the next transition. Anderson then attempted to throw knees off the bottom, only to be warned for strikes to the back of the head.

With five minutes remaining in their quarterfinal fight, Anderson almost certainly needed to finish Itsuki Hirtata. The Japanese fighter shot early; Anderson defended the attempt with ease. Anderson fired a spinning back fist, and moments later dropped Hirata with a right! Hirata recovered, and instantly initiated a clinch. She’d get the fight down with a throw; Anderson would work back up, only to be taken down once again.

With the fight going the distance, it went to the scorecards. No surprises there, as Hirata earned the unanimous decision. She’ll move on to the semifinals, with match-ups in that round voted for by fans.