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Coming off victorious pro debut, Inaba ready to keep on fighting

Sumiko Inaba, a 2009 King Kekaulike High School graduate, finishes off Jessica Ruiz during the first round of their Bellator 251 fight last week in Uncasville, Conn. BELLATOR MMA photos

At 29, Sumiko Inaba is older than most making their professional debut as a mixed martial arts fighter.

Now with that milestone achieved, she is already itching to get back in the cage.

Inaba, a 2009 King Kekaulike High School graduate, won her pro debut with a first-round victory over Jessica Ruiz (0-2) in a women’s flyweight bout at Bellator 251 last week in Uncasville, Conn.

“It was crazy, it was honestly crazy to travel,” Inaba said Thursday. “I didn’t think it was going to happen this year just because of all the COVID restrictions and everything that was going on, but Bellator made it happen. They’re really on it. They’ve had a lot of promotions already this year and I think they have it all down.

“I got tested three times when I was there, my boyfriend who was in my corner got tested twice, and once we were in the bubble we were not allowed to leave.”

Sumiko Inaba reacts after her win last week. It was the first professional fight for Inaba, who went 7-1 as an amateur.

Now, she hopes to be back in Connecticut on a Bellator card next month that will be headlined by flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, who is from Oahu.

“I know they’re super busy, but I definitely have been putting that out there,” Inaba said of the idea of being on the Bellator 254 card on Dec. 10. “I took a few days off, but I’m ready to get back in the gym — if I get the call, I will definitely be ready.

“I think we’re four weeks out, but I’m definitely trying. I mean, that’d be awesome, that’d be amazing to get another fight in before the end of this year.”

Inaba rang up a 7-1 record over an amateur career that began in 2012. It all led up to her moment in the spotlight at the Mohegan Sun Casino last week.

“Honestly, like the whole time I have been watching so much footage on Bellator and just, like, picturing myself in the ring,” Inaba said. “And hearing my boyfriend, my corner, and just like visualizing it that when I got in there it was so … I think with no crowd, too, it was pretty calm.”

Sumiko Inaba follows through on a punch to the face of Jessica Ruiz last week.

Sean Rush, a ONE Championship fighter, is Inaba’s boyfriend who offered the support and knowledge in the corner. Even he couldn’t stop the tears of joy from flowing after Inaba stopped Ruiz with one second left in the first round.

“I tried to keep my emotions intact until the end, which is exactly what happened and it kind of just came out at the end,” Inaba said. “My boyfriend is a professional fighter, too, so he kept me in the zone the whole time until, you know, the job got done. And then the emotions came out — I was super excited, happy to represent and get the win.”

COVID-19 restrictions have shut down her day job as a bartender in Wailea, so she has had time to train. Fellow Bellator fighter Tiani Valle was Inaba’s main sparring partner while preparing for Ruiz.

Her 11-year-old daughter Lei is one of her main motivational forces. She has three more fights left on her four-fight contract with Bellator.

“I’m lucky I have my daughter, she’s 11 — I’m not pushing for more any time soon, so that’s not really a thing,” Inaba said. “I definitely feel like I’m coming into my prime as an athlete, especially this last fight. That was the best I’ve ever felt physically, mentally just going into that fight, which was awesome for my pro debut.

“But I can only come back more improved every time, so I definitely would like to get one in before the end of this year. … If I can get another one in before 2021 and then get a few more in next year, then that would be awesome — just get it going.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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