Itsuki “Android 18” Hirata has become one of the most talked about MMA fighters in ONE Championship’s atomweight division.
The Japanese starlet has dismissed nearly every opponent she has been pitted against, and her rise through the rankings is looking undeniable, especially after her most recent unanimous decision victory over Chinese veteran Lin Heqin this past August.
Hirata’s infectious personality and outgoing spirit, combined with the deadly skillset she is brewing up with the Serra-Longo Fight Team, is making for a dangerous trifecta in the promotion’s 115-pound division.
All of that will be put on display once again when she faces South Korea’s Seo Hee Ham at ONE 163: Akimoto vs. Petchtanong this Saturday, November 19.
Ham will be the most seasoned athlete Hirata has have ever faced, with 25 career victories to her name and both the Rizin women’s super atomweight championship and the Road FC women’s atomweight title already in her trophy cabinet.
The South Korean has an impressive resume and vast competition experience, but “Android 18” believes it’s time for a changing of the guard.
“She is just a striker, that’s it. No big deal,” Hirata said.
“She fought in multiple countries and various events. But I want to make a change in the generation. We need to end her era. I need to make my era now.”
Hirata’s rise through the organisation’s atomweight division is quickly seeing her become a fan favorite. The 23-year-old judoka’s playful demeanour, in-ring theatrics and exciting, dominant fighting style have been a refreshing sight to see in modern MMA.
The Tokyo native boasts a 6-1 record with a pair of TKOs and submissions to her name. Despite a bump in the road against Jihin Radzuan last March, Hirata’s heart was fully tested in her aforementioned return against Lin at ONE on Prime Video 1.
That hard-fought victory over Lin proved to be monumental for Hirata. The Chinese striker was enjoying success in the stand-up exchanges, but Hirata maintained her composure, dropped Lin in the waning seconds of the fight, and nearly finished her to secure the much-needed rebound win.
There is no let up for Japan’s rising star though, as she swiftly moves into the biggest contest of her young career against Ham.
Ham, currently ONE Championship’s No. 2-ranked atomweight contender, brings a complete MMA game into the fight, as well as tremendous momentum. The South Korean is riding an eight-fight winning streak, most recently defeating No. 3-ranked Denice Zamboanga twice by decision.
Hirata studied both of those matches, and while she respects “Hamzzang’s” stand-up repertoire, the Tokyo resident feels she is lacking in other areas.
“I thought that Ham did not have much high-level ground skills,” she said. “And ONE Championship’s atomweight (division) is 52 kilograms. I think she is light in weight. I think I’m better than her in terms of physicality.”
The contest has all the makings for a breakout fight for the ever-evolving Hirata. Ham has fought an iconic list of women’s MMA in her time, including Bec Rawlings, Joanne Wood and Mei Yamaguchi.
For Hirata, the bout represents an opportunity to not only cement her place in the division, but a victory would also see her leapfrog Ham in the rankings and earn her a shot at ONE women’s atomweight champion Angela Lee.
The repercussions of a standout performance for Hirata at ONE 163 are gigantic, and one that would shake up the weight class for the foreseeable future. The challenge awaiting her in Ham is no such easy task. But if the rising Japanese star can cruise through her biggest battle yet, then 2023 may just be the year of “Android 18.”
Itsuki Hirata takes on Seo Hee Ham at ONE 163: Akimoto vs. Petchtanong on Saturday, November 19. Check here for full broadcast details where you live.