Needless to say, the past 12 months have not been a great time for Japanese atomweight prospect Itsuki Hirata.
Last fall, the then-undefeated fighter was forced to pull out of the atomweight grand prix due to illness, losing her chance to secure a title shot against Angela Lee. When she did return to action this past March, Hirata suffered her first defeat as a professional, dropping a split decision to Jihin Radzuan.
On Friday night at ONE on Prime Video 1 in Singapore, Hirata looked to put all that behind her against China’s Lin Heqin. It was Heqin, however, who connected first, with one sharp leg kick, then another. A couple of kicks later, Heqin landed a right hand; that connection seemed to wake Hirata up and get the Japanese fighter moving a little more.
About two minutes into the opening round, Hirata would take the fight down — but was unable to keep it there, with Heqin immediately scrambling up. Back on the feet, Heqin landed a string of jabs that was finally answered by an overhand right from Hirata. Another takedown attempt was initially fought off by Heqin late in the round, but after landing a number of knees to the thigh, Hirata finished the round by putting Heqin on the mat.
Round two saw Heqin go back to her leg kicks, but Hirata had changed her approach, using more lateral movement. The Japanese fighter still struggled to find her entries and get the fight to the ground, however. Hirata’s lead leg was showing some color, as the leg kicks of Heqin were clearly adding up. Hirata would latch on to a submission at the end of the round, a kimura, with Heqin escaping the round as time ran out — but heading to the third, there was a decent chance that Hirata needed a finish to win the fight.
In the third, the damage to Hirata’s legs continued to hamper her. When the pair came together along the fence, Heqin was initially able to keep things standing. But Hirata would eventually land a throw, with a chance to make something happen — only for Heqin to scramble back up. And then, some late drama. Hirata rocked Heqin with a punch, and the Chinese atomweight went down! Hirata pounced on top, landing plenty of ground n’ pound, but ref Herb Dean let things go, and for the second straight round, Lin Heqin was saved by the bell.
That, however, changed the complexion of the fight. With ONE Championship judges scoring fights as a whole, two near-finishes were enough to give Hirata the nod.
After the win, Hirata called for a rematch with the only woman to defeat her, Radzuan.
Official Result: Itsuki Hirata def. Lin Heqin by unanimous decision