Tara LaRosa (L) vs. Kelly Warren (R). photo courtesy of Sherdog
The heritage and mystique of martial arts in Japan is attractive to many MMA fighters, but before you plan on competing in Nihon, Tara LaRosa has a few things to make you aware of.
LaRosa (Twitter: @TaraLaRosa) went to Yokohama, Japan, and lost a majority decision to Rin Nakai at “Pancrase 252: 20th Anniversary” on Sept. 29
LaRosa put her skills on display in back-to-back bouts in Japan in 2005, but had not competed there until recently meeting Nakai after failing to secure a slot in the house on “The Ultimate Fighter 18.” LaRosa spoke with MMA DieHards Radio and detailed all experiences, both absurd and unique, about her latest trip to The Land of the Rising Sun.
LaRosa, the more seasoned and taller competitor, battered Nakai in the opening frame with solid punches that were connecting with power. Nakai had no choice other than clinching up with LaRosa to avoid taking further punishment, yet was still bullied by the American. The first round was a no brainer, LaRosa won.
In Round 2, Nakai managed to stay on top of LaRosa after taking her to the ground, but did zero damage. LaRosa did not absorb any significant strikes, just spent the frame on the defense and the round could’ve been awarded to either.
The third and final stanza saw LaRosa utilize the same strategy and techniques as she exhibited in Round 1, landing punches while keeping her distance and avoiding takedown attempts. Nakai eventually secured a takedown and latched on to a key-lock submission.
LaRosa was extremely impressed, but was not about to tap out with only 40 seconds left in a bout she believed she was winning.
The match went to the judges’ scorecards. As you may or may not know, controversy is no stranger to a match involving a decision outcome between a North American and Japanese fighter in Japan.
“They gave her the majority decision, which means two judges scored it for her and one scored it a draw,” LaRosa told Jason Kelly and Joe Rizzo on MMA DieHards Radio. ”See, that tells me I won. If a Japanese judge gave me a draw, that means I won the whole thing. But whatever, we knew what was going to happen going over there. I knew if it went to a decision I was going to lose no matter what. And I did.”
The submission that Nakai attempted in the third round caused unknown damage to LaRosa’s shoulder. LaRosa said she could hear her shoulder tearing and compared it to the sound of ripping a drumstick off a turkey. The tough-as-nails LaRosa played off the injury like it was nothing when doctors came to check on her following the bout.
After the medical staff left her locker room, LaRosa laid on the floor, suffering in agony to the point she felt nauseous. She had a brief conversation with her manager, Monte Cox, describing the match and pain she was enduring afterwards. Cox advised her to allow the doctors to treat her, as they are qualified and are purely looking out for her health.
“I love Pancrase for this,” LaRosa said. “They had a team of doctors working the show. I don’t know if this is normal and this is how it always is over there, but they had a team of doctors and a shoulder specialist. They brought the doctor in, and his assistant, and they worked on me for 25 minutes or so and put my shoulder back in (the socket). Thank you Pancrase, thank you Japanese doctors.”
Rules and regulations
If you were ever a fan of Pride FC, One FC, or even paid the slightest bit of attention to the Japanese MMA scene, you know corruption, manipulation and mind games are a big part of what they do to out-of-country competitors.
“There’s some things you need to know if you’re going to fight in Japan,” LaRosa explained. “Number one, they’re going to hit you with things last minute. They’re going to try to mess with you, I don’t know if they’re trying to or not, but they do.
“They sprung this one on us in the locker room before the fight – costume check. They have to check your outfit, I don’t know what they’re checking for in particular, but they’re checking your outfit.”
While LaRosa didn’t have any issues with her attire, fellow “Pancrase 252: 20th Anniversary” competitor Richie Whitson was harassed due to not having draw strings in his shorts.
While LaRosa passed the last-minute wardrobe check, she had some questions regarding the rules, seeing as Pancrase didn’t have a meeting prior to fight day to clarify them with all the competitors. Some rules she was expecting, others she was surprised by, and one is suspect of being tailor-made for this matchup.
“They said there’s no up-kicks. What the (expletive) do you mean, no up-kicks?” LaRosa said. “When she’s standing and I’m lying on the ground, on my back, I can’t kick up at her face. No up-kicks. Well, (expletive), how convenient is that? She’s 5-foot-1 and I’m 5-foot-6. Alright. Great. That’s fine.
“I’ve fought under so many rule constraints that I just roll with it. You can tell me what-the-hell-ever and I’ll just try to curtail my game plan to it. So, no up-kicks. That’s why it looks a little funny in the third round and she’s standing, bent right over my knees, right over my legs, and I’m thinking, ‘Shit, how convenient is this? She’s not even guarding her face.’ I wanted to kick her right in the face. Maybe it’s just for women, maybe they put special rules on you like that, I don’t know. They did on Danielle West, she couldn’t do any chokes and she couldn’t throw any knees, but that was because she missed weight.”
Before any combat sports bout can proceed there’s a matter of weighing in, which, in Japan, offers a much harsher set of penalties than North American MMA promotions for not staying within the parameters of a weight class.
In most MMA competitions around North America, if a fighter does not make weight for a bout he or she must forfeit 20 percent of their purse. However, what LaRosa learned in Japan about not making weight is a little drastic, but would surely decrease the number of mixed martial artists missing the mark.
“I don’t think many people know this because everyone is shocked and horrified,” LaRosa explained. “When you miss weight you get fined $2,000. It doesn’t matter what the hell you’re making. If you’re making $3,000, if you’re making $2,000, you have to pay Pancrase $2,000. If you’re over far enough that they call off the fight, or you can’t fight because you’ve cut so much weight that you’re dying, not only do you have to pay $2,000, you have to pay them back for your flight.
“I don’t know where everybody else came from, but my flight was about $3,100, so I was not missing weight. Now you’re in the hole about five grand. If you don’t fight, you get a loss on your record. It’s considered a forfeit, it’s reported as a loss. So that’s what happens if you miss weight and you don’t fight. There may be some other (expletive) in there as well, I don’t know.”
There is even more professional suffering for missing weight.
“If you miss weight and you do fight, the best you can get is a draw. Even if you win, if you choke them out, knock them out, armbar them, rip out their spleen, what-the-hell-ever you do, you get a draw. And you still have to pay $2,000. That’s protocol.”
If you are a resident of the U.S. or Canada, you know damn well that we don’t offer much in the way of traditional dishes. (Editor’s Note: The author is a professional chef.) We opt to dine at Italian restaurants, Greek bistros, Chinese take-out, or something along those lines. Although it fills the void, the taste of authentic food from its native country compared to a Canadian or American version of their plates is apples to oranges.
LaRosa learned just that in her visit to Japan.
“I don’t know what they did to it, or lack thereof, but just the ingredients are so much fresher and it’s such a clean taste,” LaRosa said. “It wasn’t heavy with oil, and you know how so much Asian food is heavy with sodium? Well, this wasn’t at all, not at all. I ate lunch and dinner the two days I was there prior to weigh-ins and I woke up on weight. I didn’t have to cut water, I didn’t have to (do) anything. It was amazing.
“What we call pot stickers over here, forget about it. They’re so much better over there. They taste entirely different. The stuff that we have over here is (expletive), OK? I could stay there for the food alone.”
Along with the mouth-watering cuisine that comes from Japanese restaurants is an equally delicious, yet peculiar method of purchasing food.
In North America, when we think of eating from a vending machine it’s junk food or less-than desirable sandwiches. In Japan, where they have more vending machines than people, you can get a scrumptious meal ranging from live crab to homemade pizza without the services of a chef.
“There’s vending machines everywhere, even in residential areas,” LaRosa said. “We were in Yokohama, which is its own city, it’s not Tokyo; Tokyo is a different thing. So, we were in Yokohama, which is a lot less touristy, and there’s vending machines right outside apartment buildings. They’re everywhere, like, everywhere. If you live in a sub-division or something, you’re not going to see random vending machines anywhere, right? Well, they’re there.”
LaRosa’s trip to Japan was one of a kind, to say the least. As a tourist, the food and sights are very satisfyinng enough. To a foreign mixed martial artist, given what could be stacked against you, are you prepared to compete in Japan?
Pass the yen.