By Wendy Arellano

It happened in the third and final round. Claire Lopez needed to submit her rival. The advantage belonged to the Japanese athlete Rena Kubota. Lopez kept her eyes on her opponent, preparing the final offensive. Both sought to close the contest and leave the cage with their arms raised. Rena could afford to wait for the Frenchwoman’s mistake; Claire could not fail, it was essential to find a way to subdue Kubota and in the process spoil the spirit of the 13,500 people gathered at Yoyogi National Gym in Tokyo.

The commentators already took for granted the triumph of the local team on the judges’ cards. With a few seconds left on the clock, Lopez managed to bring the fight to the ground. In unorthodox fashion, she caught Kubota’s leg and applied a submission. The pain in the knee was unbearable. Rena gave up. The Japanese audience, who watches the fights in silence with the greatest respect, and reserves their applause for the peak moments (as if a game of chess was being played inside the cage), was enraptured. Their discipline was broken, overwhelmed by the urge to cheer Claire’s great technique.

For a martial artist, fighting in Japan represents the realization of a dream. Not only are forces and resources measured against the opponent, but also against an ancient culture where martial arts are part of the culture of its population and are as popular as soccer in Brazil or Mexico.

Lopez’s victory, in addition to earning her the recognition of fans, bore immediate fruit. Claire became the challenger for RIZIN’s super atomweight title. Dethroning Seika Izawa, on July 29 at Saitama Super Arena in Japan, is her goal.

Originally from French Guiana, a tiny region of France in South America, Lopez will challenge Izawa, who resides in Tokyo, which has the most populous metropolitan area in the world — about 100 times the amount of people of Lopez’s birthplace.

Claire is confident that her fists can knock anyone out. Her fight against Kubota is proof that her technical resources at key moments are also to be feared. The French fighter is determined to vanquish one of the cradles of martial arts.

“Fighting and winning at Yoyogi Gym and demonstrating my quality in front of the Japanese public was already a dream come true,” Lopez said. “Fighting in the legendary Saitama, where legends have fought, in front of 45,000 people, is simply incredible. It’s another level,” said Lopez.