Sumiko Inaba: The Lady Samurai

Maui-born fighter is rising quickly in the MMA ranks

Sumiko Inaba by Lucas Noonan

Sumiko Inaba stands 5’4” and weighs in at 125 pounds. She’s soft spoken and humble. But the mixed martial arts fighter known as “Lady Samurai” transforms into a fierce warrior inside the cage.

In three professional bouts, Inaba—a 31-year-old King Kekaulike High graduate—is undefeated. Two of her wins have come via knockout, the other by submission.

After her most recent victory, in October 2021 at Bellator 268 in Phoenix, she let loose a primal yell and pounded her chest, posing for the camera while grinning through her mouth guard.

“I love you, Hawai’i,” she said. “I see you guys.”

Hawai‘i, and the MMA world, are starting to see her, too.

“Once that referee [says], ‘Are you ready?’ I’m like, ‘Yup, I’m ready,’ and it just flips right there,” said Inaba. “That’s when I know ‘Lady Samurai’ comes out. I’m Sumiko now, and ‘Lady Samurai’ is in the cage, for sure.”

Her Bellator 268 submission came against “Ruthless” Randi Field, who also entered the cage at 2-0. The clash between undefeated flyweight wahine lasted two minutes, two seconds before Inaba ended it with an arm triangle choke. Blood dripped from Field’s forehead as she lay on the mat, but she and Inaba shared a warm embrace immediately after the fight.

Bellator, a subsidiary of Paramount Global, is one of the world’s largest combat sports promoters, alongside Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

“Sumiko Inaba is becoming a force,” said former Bellator referee John McCarthy. “She’s got an engine. She puts out a lot of shots on her opponent and just systematically starts to break them down.”

“The ferocity [stands] out to me,” added commentator Sean Grande. “As Randi Field slowed down, Inaba almost seemed to go even faster. But not out-of-control faster, like a younger fighter. More like, ‘I see the finish line, and I know how to get there.’”

Inaba’s first pro fight, against Jessica Ruiz, lasted four minutes, fifty-nine seconds. In her second fight, she TKO’d Kristina “The Meat Grinder” Katsikis in three minutes, thirty-five seconds.

All of those fights were undercards, secondary to the main event. But Inaba is rising quickly in the MMA ranks and making a name for herself in one of the world’s fastest-growing sports.

Inaba studied nursing before she discovered mixed martial arts a decade ago. “I got into it, honestly, just to get into shape,” she said. “I took my first amatuer fight, won that, and it just started rolling from there.”

Sumiko Inaba by Lucas Noonan.

She went 6-1 as an amatuer, including three TKOs. Like many people, the pandemic pumped the brakes on her career, but she debuted as a pro in November 2020 and has landed an endorsement with Hilo-based Waiakea Water Company.

“We are stoked to have Sumiko as an ambassador and excited to see what lies ahead for this exciting athlete,” Waiakea said in a statement.

“To be able to represent a local brand is humbling,” said Inaba. “To have them supporting me in this journey is special.”

Inaba draws inspiration from her 13-year-old daughter, Kiyarah-Lei, who has gotten into jiu-jitsu. “Being a mom and pursuing this career is awesome,” she said. “I get to show my [daughter] what it means to have confidence and feel strong as a growing girl.”

Inaba’s next fight will be at Bellator 279 on April 23 at Honolulu’s Blaisdell Arena. It’ll be a homecoming, and a chance to maintain her unblemished pro record.

“I feel great right now, having these amazing opportunities with such a big platform to perform on,” she said. “I can’t see anywhere but moving up in the ranks.”

Jacob Shafer