Unbeaten 28-year-old bantamweight Daichi Takenaka is perfectly placed to make a run at the ONE Bantamweight World Title.
The former Shooto and Vale Tudo Japan competitor made a successful ONE Championship debut in February when he defeated former title challenger Dae Hwan Kim.
Now, he is looking to extend his 10-bout win streak with a victory over Guam’s Roman “Boom” Alvarez at ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON in Shanghai, China, on 8 September.
Born in Osaka as the youngest of three children, Takenaka started out as a big football fan, and harboured hopes of taking his skills onto the big stage.
“I played soccer from elementary school all the way through to high school, so soccer was the one constant interest throughout my youth,” he recalls.
However, after graduating from high school, Takenaka called a halt to his soccer endeavours as he took up a job working for a building maintenance company.
The then-19-year-old noticed his fitness levels beginning to drop as a result of his lack of physical activity, and he started to look for something suitable to help keep him in shape.
“I had not exercised for a while, and was looking for a way to regain my physical fitness,” he admits.
The lightbulb moment came when he was playing video games in his friend’s apartment. Playing a mixed martial arts game, Takenaka realised he had accidentally discovered the perfect activity to keep him fit.
“The video game piqued my interest in mixed martial arts, which I was previously unaware of,” he explains.
“I started searching online for all things mixed martial arts-related, and was hooked.”
He started training aged 20, at the Paraestra Izumi gym, though he found the training much harder than he expected.
“When I first started training in mixed martial arts, I was steamrolled by other fighters at the gym,” he says.
“But I persisted, and found that I was starting to hold my own against them, and that was invigorating.”
Takenaka persisted, and eventually turned his hand to mixed martial arts competition – first as an amateur, and then as a professional in June 2012.
“This guy who I often ran into at the jiu-jitsu class casually said that I might be able to become a pro. I am still good friends with him, but he does not remember ever saying that to me,” Takenaka laughs.
“Also, I reflected on my life, and wondered whether I had ever truly dedicated myself to any single pursuit. Somewhere in me was the desire to test what I am made of.”
Takenaka embarked on his pro career in Japanese promotions Shooto and Vale Tudo Japan, amassing an impressive record of 10 wins and one draw, capturing the Shooto Pacific Rim Featherweight Championship in the process.
But with his momentum seemingly looking unstoppable, injury struck as he sustained knee damage during a training incident. It put him on the shelf for an extended period of time while he painstakingly recovered and rehabbed his injury.
“Coping with the knee injury through 2016 and 2017 was very mentally challenging, even though I understood that there are people in this world who face much bigger adversity than I ever have,” he admits.
“Not only was I forced to see other fighters succeed, I saw my friends around my age gain traction with their careers, or get married and achieve important milestones in life.
“Others were succeeding in work and life, which reinforced the stagnation in my life, and left me antsy with frustration.”
Takenaka wouldn’t be denied, however, and the time on the sidelines only served to strengthen his resolve and determination to succeed upon his return.
Once he recovered, he signed for the world’s largest martial arts organization and claimed a statement victory on his debut, defeating former ONE Bantamweight World Title challenger Dae Hwan Kim at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD in February, announcing his arrival as a legitimate threat in the division.
Victory in his upcoming bout against Alvarez in Shanghai will propel him into contender status and offer a new challenger to the division’s top gun, ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.
“I love mixed martial arts, because seeing how a fighter progresses through his career gives a glimpse into his character, and how he carries himself in life,” he says.
“While I may not be the flashiest fighter or have a flair for dramatic finishes, I hope to put on fights that would inspire and invigorate fans.”