At 16 years of age, most girls are focused on getting their driver’s license, doing their homework and daydreaming about the high school quarterback or prom night. One thing they’re not thinking about is getting punched in the face.

Mizuki Inoue is not your average girl.

The Nagoya, Japan resident was already accustomed to fending off punches and kicks by the time she was 16, and she wasn’t doing so in a schoolyard or a back alley. The setting was much more formal.

It was Oct. 10, 2010, about two months after Inoue turned 16, and the teenager was standing in a ring opposite Emi Murata. It was the opening round of the Jewels Rough Stone Grand Prix, and Inoue was making her professional MMA debut. Even at that early stage of her career, though, Inoue was no stranger to combat sports.

“I began training karate when I was in the fourth grade,” Inoue told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “One day I just tagged along with my older brother to watch his karate training, and it looked interesting. Then, when I was in the sixth grade, I began training MMA.”

At the age of 15, Inoue was competing in amateur kickboxing bouts and in May 2010, she made her pro debut in shoot boxing. Weeks before her 16th birthday, Inoue stepped into the kickboxing ring opposite 29-year-old Emi Fujino, a veteran mixed martial artist. When the dust settled, Inoue found her hand raised in a unanimous-decision victory. Even at such a young age, Inoue already knew what she wanted.

“When I made [my] pro debut, I’ve set myself three goals: becoming a world champion in MMA, kickboxing and shoot boxing. And this hasn’t changed til this day,” she admitted.

On that night in October 2010, Inoue was taking the first step on her way to realizing her dreams. In the second round, the kickboxer snagged Murata’s arm and held on for the armbar submission. She would return to the ring just two months later at Jewels 11th Ring to face Asako Saioka in the finals of the under-56 kilogram (123-pound) tournament. Less than three minutes after the opening bell, Inoue had her second professional MMA win and her first MMA championship, securing an armbar once again for the win. In fact, even to this day, the noted striker has captured all of her MMA wins via submission.

“It’s not like I am looking for a submission finish,” Inoue confessed. “I like to stay standing and exchange punches. It’s just, all these fights naturally went to the ground and I just finished them when I had a chance.”

Despite her success in mixed martial arts action, Inoue remained just as dedicated to her kickboxing and shoot boxing careers. After winning the Rough Stone Grand Prix, she turned her sights back to those more striking-oriented arts. She entered the 2011 J-Girls bantamweight tournament, advancing to the finals before losing her first professional kickboxing bout. In between tourney dates, she returned to Jewels for the promotion’s 14th effort, where she won a shoot boxing bout.

Then it was back to MMA, and a daunting task for Inoue. In only her third pro bout, the prodigy, who by this point was 17, was tasked with fighting undefeated Jewels 115-pound champion Ayaka Hamasaki in a non-title affair. The pair battled for two full rounds, but it was Hamasaki who got the better of Inoue and earned the decision victory. For all of Inoue’s submission wins, both prior and since, there was one thing that the noted grappler Hamasaki taught her in that outing.

“I need to work more on a ground game,” Inoue explained. “I want to be a champion [in] Japan too and that means I need to beat Hamasaki-san. If I can fight her again, I want [to] make sure that I can fight her on the ground as well.”

Since that fight, Inoue has rattled off three MMA wins, including a submission of Invicta veteran Alex Chambers, and shifted her focus from flyweight to strawweight. Meanwhile, in 2012, she ventured back into the shoot boxing arena, first defeating Shoot Boxing Japan flyweight champ Ai Takahashi and then advancing through the S-Cup tournament, where she defeated Takahashi via a six-round unanimous decision in the finals to claim the championship. Though she’s still just 18 years old, Inoue has already amassed enough championships to fill a trophy case, and she has plans for plenty more.

“Well, UFC doesn’t have our weight class yet, so I am not really thinking UFC. I want to be a champion [in] Japan, then in the world, so Deep Jewels title, then Invicta title, would be ideal,” Inoue said. “So far, winning S-Cup tourney in Shoot Boxing is my biggest achievement.”

Thus far in her career, the 18-year-old has not ventured far from her native Aichi Prefecture in Japan. Her MMA career has been firmly rooted in the Jewels promotion, which hosts its shows in Tokyo. Now, however, Inoue is set to go global. She’s in Kansas City, Mo., this weekend for Invicta Fighting Championship’s sixth event. Despite her already lengthy fighting resume, this is a new experience in many ways for Inoue and the lingering question is how she will handle it.

“It was a long trip, almost 18 hours,” Inoue revealed, “and on top of this, I am not good at roller coasters and [the] small plane to Kansas City went through heavy turbulence, so it was scary. But I already got rid of my jet lag and the only concern is just [to] cut few more pounds so I will be ready on a Saturday night.”

Awaiting Inoue on Saturday night is popular Australian fighter Bec Hyatt. Hyatt, having flown in from Down Under on multiple occasions, can certainly relate to Inoue when it comes to the grueling trip that precedes an Invicta bout for someone from their side of the globe. But don’t expect Hyatt, who delivered an impressive—and extremely aggressive—performance in her submission victory over Jasminka Cive at Invicta FC 5, to be merciful. Inoue certainly doesn’t.

“She has a strong heart and she is very aggressive,” assessed Inoue. “I want to make sure that she won’t push her pace. I want to be able to counter all of her attacks.”

Despite Inoue’s intent to answer Hyatt at every turn, the young lady realizes that her Australian counterpart is no slouch. The game plan Inoue has revealed could be one that her opponent is anticipating.

“I have a feeling that she thinks I will be looking for counter shots,” Inoue admitted, “and she is very good at countering the counter shots, so I have be cautious about this.”

Hyatt is a logical step on Inoue’s quest to add to her collection of championships. Despite just seven fights in her professional career, Hyatt has already challenged for the Invicta belt, going the distance against reigning champion Carla Esparza. She is still among the top contenders in the strawweight division and her high profile within the Invicta fan base makes her an attractive target for anyone seeking to boost their own status in the title picture.

Many 16-year-old girls would scoff at the notion of fighting. Their heroes and role models are often actresses on the silver screen, pretty pop singers or even rich and spoiled socialites with last names like Hilton or Kardashian. Not Inoue. As her fight with Hyatt looms, she looks not to those sources for inspiration. Instead, when Inoue reflects on people who inspire her, she turns her eyes toward the ring.

“I don’t have a particular hero or a role model, but when I saw Masato [Kobayashi] in K-1 MAX, I thought he looked really cool,” Inoue said.

Just over five weeks after she touches gloves with Hyatt, Inoue will turn 19. Teenagers tend to think they’re invincible, but Inoue, with her experience in combat sports, is wise beyond her years. She has tasted defeat, but she has also feasted on victory.

“I am young and sometimes I can just ride on a momentum of being young and active, and win, but not always though,” Inoue said.

This weekend in Kansas City, Inoue will experience another landmark moment in her life. It won’t involve a prom dress or any of the other things that one would commonly associate with the life of a teenage girl, but for every bruise and black eye, and for every win and loss, Mizuki Inoue can one day look back on her youth and know she accomplished the extraordinary.

Mizuki would like to thank her sponsors: Helmet, Alienware and East & West. She would also like to thank all her teammates at Hakushin-kai and her master, Chairman Yamaguchi. Follow Inoue on Twitter: @fighter_mk