From hula dancer to fighter, Inaba follows the dream to the MMA

Maui’s Sumiko Inaba delivers a blow to Randy’s Field in 2021 at Bellator 268 in Phoenix. Inaba, a graduate of King Kekaulike High School, is scheduled to fight October 1 at Bellator 286. Lucas Noonan / Bellator photo

Maui’s professional mixed martial arts fighter, Sumiko Inaba, grew up dancing hula.

From ages 5 to 15, Inaba meticulously transitioned into Hawaiian music and chants before finding a passion for martial arts for fitness reasons in 2012, winning her first fight the following year.

“It’s a different form of art, but it wasn’t a martial art,” he said. The 31-year-old King Kekaulike High School graduate said with a laugh on Tuesday afternoon. “Maybe, I don’t know, it translates.”

For over a decade, Inaba had a successful career in the amateur world before signing a professional contract with Bellator MMA in 2020.

Having started her professional 4-0 career, she is now training for her fifth professional match against Belgium’s Nadine Mandeo (2-5) in the women’s flyweight division. The match is scheduled to be part of the Bellator 286 card on October 1 at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center in California.

Sumiko Inaba of Maui celebrates after defeating Randy Field in October 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona Lucas Noonan / Bellator photo

“I’m so excited, that’s what I say every time, but there’s no other emotion to express it,” Annaba, which was endorsed by Helu-based water company Wiakia, said. “Just super grateful, honestly, I’m still doing it. This is my fifth professional fight with Bellator. It’s so close to home, it’s in Long Beach, California, so I can’t complain and yes, it’s time for a crunch.”

“It’s always exciting the last two weeks.”

A Hawaiian of Japanese descent, she said she picked up the name “Samurai Lady” early in her career and “It’s stuck with me ever since.”

In the lead up to Bellator 286, Inaba . was Putting all the puzzle pieces together With boxing coach Wayne Kambra in Buchalani, she practices jiu-jitsu at NEST Maui in Wailuku, and trains at home with her fiancée.

Four years earlier, Inaba defeated Mandiau by TKO in the first round in an amateur fight in Las Vegas, but the duo would face off again.

“She’s ready for the rematch, she wants to see if she has improved over the past years and so am I,” Annaba said. “So it would be great to put our skills that we’ve built up over the years, put it all in there, and see who comes out on top.”

She was also a mother to 13-year-old Kiyarah-Lei, who attended Kalama Middle School, and a foster father to a 14-month-old, finding time for both family and rehearsals was crucial in the fight for Inaba.

“Physically, I’m fully prepared,” She said. “I took the last eight weeks of hard training, but mentally, for this camp, I really tried to manage my stress. Being a mother and a fighter in general, being able to see where my energy is going, and realizing that there is always a balance to everything.

“I think with every fight it gets a little easier – just gaining experience and being able to go through combat training and then go home and relax. So, it’s just being able to know balance and this camp was really important to me.”

She grew up on the island of Maui, where opportunities sometimes seem out of reach, and hopes to show Kiki and the adults that they can still achieve their goals.

“It’s amazing, I hope throughout my fighting career to show that even though we live on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we can chase our dreams,” Annaba said. “Although our resources are limited and sometimes we don’t have all the opportunities, I had these opportunities and I’m running with them now.”

Starting her professional career at the age of 29 is far from the norm, but Inaba continues to pursue her dream of a world championship.

“I’m on this huge platform and I hope to show – not just young girls, but anyone in general who pursues their dreams – that if you put in the effort and stick to it and chase your dreams, you can get to that next stage,” She said. “I hope to be a proven example and show the world.”

*Dakota Grossman is located at dgrossman@mauinews.com

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