52-Year-Old Shinobu Kandori Will Fight 31-Year-Old Gabi Garcia and We’ve Lost Faith in Humanity

Fightland Blog

By Jeff Harder

In the realm of freak show fights, poor taste isn't just paramount: it’s central to the aesthetic. Every ridiculous match-up you’ve ever seen—from Fedor Emelianenko versus Zuluzinho, to Bob Sapp versus Akebono, to Giant Silva's whole body of work—treats combative sports as a brutal parody of what fighting actually is. The bouts stir traces of outrage (because they’re outrageous), but those feelings always diminish because we have an appetite for freak show fights as well as a tolerance for the usual dynamics beneath them: the big versus the small, the famous versus the anonymous, the capable versus the inept.

But what about the young, massive, and dangerous versus the aging, petite, and political?

On Friday, Rizin Fighting Federation announced a left-field addition to its New Year’s Eve spectacle in Saitama. Gabi Garcia, a 31-year-old multi-time Brazilian jiu jitsu world champion and 3-0 mixed martial artist who stands 6'1" and weighs north of 205 pounds, faces Shinobu Kandori, a 52-year-old politician in Japan’s House of Councilors and a former judoka, pro wrestler, and MMA fighter who stood 5'7" and weighed 165 pounds when she last competed more than 16 years ago. Just look at the size difference between them at the press conference staredown. This is insane and unsettling even by "New Year’s Eve in Japan" standards.

It's also baffling. The presumable explanation for the fight's genesis has to do with Japanese promoters' penchant for putting the spotlight on the local heroes of yesteryear. Before her entry into politics a decade ago, Kandori’s exploits as a hard-nosed pro wrestler—especially her 1993 match with Akira Hokuto—endeared her to the Japanese citizenry. Kandori’s association with the Ladies’ Legend Pro-Wrestling promotion also led to her entry into mixed martial arts when the promotion slotted her into an MMA tournament in 1995. Kandori went 4-1 over half a decade, winning each fight by submission and avenging her lone loss to Svetlana Goundarenko, a 300-plus-pound Russian judoka who competed in the Olympics.

By that measure, Gabi Garcia looks diminutive. Garcia, a Brazilian as famous for her IBJJF medals as this picture of her towering over former PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva, has gone 3-0 since her Rizin debut last December 31. That trio of finishes has come against Seini Draughn, Anna Malyukova, and Destanie Yarbrough, an unremarkable grouping that's less about building Garcia's star through crushing cans than sheer necessity: women's MMA might become barren once you exit the featherweight division, but 205-pound female MMA fighters basically do not exist. Such is the implicit justification for an unsavory match-up like Garcia-Kandori: if you can't find anyone else to fight you, you might as well beat on a grappling politico who's almost old enough to get discounted movie tickets.

Rizin is usually a good time even when it’s rubbing our own depravity in our face, but this sets a new, corrosive frontier for freak show fights. And when you’re operating with this kind of logical insanity churning in the background, a stupid question suddenly looks reasonable: why doesn’t Gabi Garcia just fight a guy? Maybe that’s the long game here. In MMA’s ever-lengthening history, a fight between a man and a woman is in the footnotes. Fight a woman who looks like a small child next to you but is old enough to be your mom, and suddenly fighting a member of the opposite sex looks less like the erosion of a taboo and more like a path to a credible challenger. (If you conveniently ignore the fact that your promoter found three similar-sized female opponents for you before.)

The only rational defense for booking this fight is an individual's right to self-determination. Garcia and Kandori are consenting adults. They’ve both fought before, and Kandori’s history with Goundarenko evinces success in punching up. They were offered the fight, not kidnapped and compelled against their will (presumably), and they’re both being paid for their services.

But when you remember that they’re only getting paid because Rizin’s promoters are making that much more, the whole affair collapses under the weight of its own grossness. I’m left with the awkward hope that Garcia versus Kandori is a work on the order of Make Coleman versus Nobuhiko Takada or, if it’s on the level, that Garcia takes pains to make it a quick, no-trauma exhibition of the gentle art. Freak show fights might speak to some of humanity’s basest instincts, but if they involve watching a woman at her athletic peak beat the shit out of a 52-year-old politician who’s coming out of retirement for the privilege, I would like to cancel my membership with the human race please.


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