Japanese martial arts icon Yuki Kondo will step under the bright lights of ONE Championship as his evergreen career continues to roll on.
Kondo will take on returning martial arts legend Renzo Gracie in an eagerly-awaited bout at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS in Manila on Friday, 27 July.
The contest will be Kondo’s 104th professional match-up of a career that started way back when his passion for martial arts was sparked by a certain movie star.
He practised Shorinji Kempo – a Japanese style derived from Shaolin kung fu – and dreamed of being just like his hero.
“The reason I started is that I liked Jackie Chan,” he remembers.
“I thought I could learn kung fu, but once I started, I realised they were different.”
After coming to terms with the difference, Kondo applied himself to learning the skills involved and became a second-degree black belt.
“Back then, I learned body movements and footwork. I think that is still my base even now,” he says.
“Maybe without martial arts, I would have done some sort of work in a rural area in Niigata. I would have lived an ordinary life. I think I would have lived life without any meaning.”
Thankfully, martial arts gave Kondo a life of meaning, as he embarked on a career that continues to this day.
He graduated from high school and joined the Pancrase organisation in Japan. It was a baptism of fire, but one that would ultimately give him the grounding in mixed martial arts competition that he needed.
“The hardest time in my martial arts career is when I entered Pancrase after graduating from high school,” he explains.
“I was a new student. I stayed in the dojo, and I cooked and cleaned there. It was hard.
“I didn’t have freedom. I just remember it was hard every day. Practice was hard and life was also hard. I couldn’t meet my friends.
“I practised with athletes I admired like (Masakatsu) Funaki, (Minoru) Suzuki and (Kazuo) Takahashi. I had the base of martial arts hammered into me by them, including physical strength.
“I still make use of the experience. They improved me, physically and mentally, and I think that’s one of the reasons that I’m still a martial artist.”
That tough early training shaped Kondo as a martial arts competitor and continues to serve as inspiration today.
He made his debut in January 1996, and on July 27, 103 bouts later, he will face Renzo Gracie in a battle of martial arts legends at the Mall Of Asia Arena.
Despite winning King of Pancrase titles at middleweight, light-heavyweight and openweight, and despite his remarkable longevity, Kondo says he does not see himself as a legend of the sport.
“People call me a ‘legend’ but I don’t think so at all, but I’m honoured to be called a ‘legend,’” he explains.
“People say I have the most experience, but it’s because of everyone’s help. That’s the reason I have done so much.
“I don’t forget a beginner’s humility. I do martial arts with a beginner’s mind. Of course, I’m proud of the titles I have got. but I try to forget that. If I think, ‘I was a champion before,’ then I won’t improve any more.”
And, at 43 years young, Kondo wants to be an inspiration to others that you can still pursue your dreams, whatever your age.
“I want to show people that you can do many things in your career,” he says.
“I’m happy if I can let people all over the world know how awesome Japanese athletes are. I want to spread that message.”
Though he does not subscribe to his own legendary status, he certainly views Gracie that way.
“I think he is a legend. Everyone knows him, and he has many achievements. I’m honoured to fight with him,” he says.
“I’m full of motivation and I’m focused. I’m ready to show all I have.
“I hope we will have an intense bout and leave it in everyone’s memory.
“I think it will be an intense bout, so I want fans to watch it. Let’s show everything we’ve got and have an awesome bout.”