Perhaps one of Japan’s best female talents today, Kana Watanabe has judo in her blood, training in the discipline since 6 years old and going on to earn a fourth-degree black belt and compete on the National Judo Team. Watanabe, whose father and brother are also both black belts in judo, made her professional MMA debut in 2017, going 8-0-1 before signing with Bellator in 2019. Watanabe went 4-2 in Bellator, losing to flyweight champions Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Liz Carmouche. She most recently fought in July, scoring a unanimous decision over Veta Arteaga.


Shanna Young originally started her combat sports journey in karate before going into wrestling, where she earned All-America status in 2010. Young, in fact, made her pro MMA debut at 16 years old and has competed in promotions all over the world. Young, who won bantamweight gold on the regional circuit, competed in the 2023 PFL Challenger Series, defeating Sandra Lavado.


Which of these veterans will get off to a strong start in the PFL women’s flyweight season?


Note: Due to missing weight, Young enters this fight with a one-point deduction in the PFL women’s flyweight standings.



Round 1


Young tries to start out strong with her striking, throwing small flurries. Both fighters scored with punches to the head. Low kick from Watanabe. Both land short strikes. Watanabe tries to step over and manages to get to Young’s back. Watanabe tries to climb onto Young’s back while standing. Watanabe looking for a choke. Watanabe landed several strikes to Young’s head, though she seems to be too high in her positioning to lock a choke in.


Watanabe gets in the double hooks and brings Young down to the mat. Watanabe continues her striking, with Young appearing to be bleeding. Watanabe looks for a choke again. Young rolls, looking for space, but can’t get Watanabe off of her. Young goes back to keeping Watanabe too high for a choke, but Watanabe may be trying to adjust to an armbar. Watanabe looks for a sweep to lock the armbar in, but Young steps over her, preventing the hold from going in before the horn.




Round 2


Young goes back to her striking and manages to get Watanabe off balance briefly. Watanabe, however, recovered and got back to Young’s back and brought the fight back to the ground. Watanabe once again brings pressure with strikes on the ground to Young’s head. Young returns to her feet, but Watanabe gets back onto Young’s back in the standing position. Young appeared to get Watanabe off, but Watanabe brings her back down with a sweep.


Young manages to dump Watanabe off, but not for long! Watanabe pulls her back down to the mat. Young, however, manages to get into top position, and now she’s starting to fire off ground strikes. Watanabe throws up her legs and looks for an armbar. Young tries to step over and finishes the round on top of Watanabe, but she was locked in Watanabe’s struggle to isolate the arm.




Round 3


Watanabe tries for the judo already, but Young stops it and tries to bring the aggression early. Watanabe, however, gets a hold of her and brings the fight back to the mat in about 20 seconds. Watanabe once again locks up Young on the ground, on her back. Watanabe goes right back to searching for submissions. Watanabe has Young locked in a half nelson. Young trying to get back to her feet with Watanabe on her. She does so, but Watanabe continues to keep a hold and brings the fight back to the ground again.


Young is back to her feet once more, struggling to make her way around the SmartCage with Watanabe on her like glue. Watanabe seems locked onto her back, with Young unable to get out of the grip. Once more, Watanabe gets her to the ground. Watanabe works her over before looking for another armbar attempt in the closing seconds of the fight. Young gets out of it and gets on top, but she is unable to get anything in the fight’s closing seconds.


A dominant display for Kana Watanabe here.





Kana Watanabe defeats Shanna Young by unanimous decision (30-27x3), earning 3 points in the PFL Women’s Flyweight Division.