On Friday, 14 January, the Japanese judoka will face off against “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan for the ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title, and despite the scale of this task, she feels ready to score an upset at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Chinese powerhouse Xiong is the most dominant female World Champion in ONE history, with a fierce striking arsenal that’s helped her fend off five challenges to her crown so far.
However, Miura’s potent submission game and trademark “Ayaka Lock” – which she’s used to finish all four of her ONE victories – make her a bona fide threat to anybody she meets inside the Circle.
In this exclusive interview, the Tribe Tokyo MMA athlete discusses her upcoming World Title fight, her skill set, and how her team has helped her prepare for the biggest match of her MMA career.
ONE Championship: When did you find out you were going to challenge Xiong Jing Nan for the belt? And what was your reaction when you found out?
Ayaka Miura: I first heard about it in September last year. I was surprised. The match was originally scheduled for October, so I asked my trainer if I could make it. Jing Nan also had a match in September, so I wondered if she would be all right. I was surprised at first.
ONE: Xiong has looked nearly unstoppable since she joined ONE. Does that intimidate you?
AM: Two fighters have lost to both of us (Laura Balin and Samara Santos), so I’m not too worried about that. I’ve been practicing, watching the strikes rather than striking with her. I’ve been training my eyes to look at the punches and to avoid them.
ONE: What do you think are her most dangerous techniques?
AM: I think her punches that swing from side to side are dangerous. I also think that the body punch that beat Angela Lee is powerful.
ONE: What do you think of her grappling?
AM: I don’t think she’s a bad grappler because she was able to deal with Angela Lee when she was held down. She hasn’t shown it much in her fights, but I think she’s actually strong.
ONE: So on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate her grappling?
AM: It’s like 6 or 7. The reason is that she is good defensively. In other words, she has good basic movements. She can do that in a fight. If she could land takedowns, I think she would be perfect.
ONE: Xiong has showcased strong takedown defense skills recently. Even [multiple-time BJJ World Champion] Michelle Nicolini had a hard time putting her down. What can you do differently that Michelle didn’t do?
AM: I don’t think Nicolini has a modern MMA style, so she wasn’t very persistent or anything. I think there are differences like that.
ONE: Let’s talk about your scarf-hold Americana, which has become known as the “Ayaka Lock.” How did you get so good at this move, and why can’t your opponents escape this submission?
AM: This is a technique that uses judo holds to control the opponent’s shoulders and bend their elbows in the opposite direction. Since the joint is fixed and bent in the opposite direction, you can’t escape from the pain – you have to tap.
ONE: Will you go for the scarf-hold Americana against Xiong?
AM: That’s right. I will go for it if she lets her guard down. There’s a lot that goes into getting to the “Ayaka Lock.” I think this time, the match will be different from the past.
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ONE: We know you train with [ONE Championship flyweight star] Yuya Wakamatsu. What’s your relationship like with Yuya, and how has he helped you in your MMA career?
AM: We are very close. All my gym mates are good friends. He has a serious attitude towards training, so when I look at him, it makes me feel like I need to pull myself together and do more training. The gym has a good atmosphere, and all the fighters train together a lot.
ONE: Do you look up to Yuya? If so, in what ways?
AM: He was training what he wanted to do and show more of, especially in his last fight, which was a decision win after three rounds. I think the people watching wanted him to finish the fight, but it was interesting for me to watch.
It takes a lot of courage to do what you do in training in a fight, such as shooting for a takedown when you expect he is going to punch. He was fighting the match while keeping his feelings under control, which I thought was amazing.
If I had fought that match, I think I would have tried to finish in the first round and would have been exhausted in the second or third round. I thought it was great of Wakamatsu to watch his pace and do what he wanted to do. I learned from his last fight about suppressing my emotions and pacing myself.
ONE: You two have contrasting styles. But do you get to train together, and if so, what are those sessions like?
AM: I train with him in both striking and newaza (ground fighting). It seems that Yuya and I have similar body and brain structures, so I should be able to do the same as him. He and I also train in a similar way.
I have been asked by Yuya to teach him how to throw. Yuya sometimes goes to learn newaza and teaches it to me. He often gives me information. He seems to learn by telling.
ONE: There seem to be a lot of critics recently. Meng Bo said you have nothing but wrestling and that your stand-up game is poor. How do you respond to that?
AM: Meng Bo can’t do newaza, can she? That’s all.
ONE: What do you want to prove to your critics in this fight with Xiong?
AM: I want to show that even ordinary people can become champions if they work hard.
ONE: Do you have a message for your fans?
AM: I’m sure there are a lot of people who think, “Can she win?” and, “It is impossible.” Despite that, I’m going to hang on somehow and do my best, so please give me your support on 14 January.