Daichi Takenaka has quietly emerged as one of the most promising bantamweights from the Japanese mixed martial arts scene.
The undefeated 28-year-old cut his teeth in regional promotions such as Shooto and Vale Tudo Japan, where he ripped through the competition.
His string of success continued in his ONE Championship debut in February, when he beat former World Title challenger Dae Hwan Kim, and announced himself to the division in the process.
Now, the Japanese athlete brings his ten-bout win streak into his sophomore outing on Saturday, 8 September. He is set to face Guam’s Roman “Boom” Alvarez (8-2) at ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON in Shanghai, China.
Before he steps inside the Baoshan Arena for his bout, learn a little bit more about Takenaka and his humble rise to stardom.
An Ordinary, Everyday Life
Takenaka was born and raised in Osaka, a metropolis in western Japan.
As the youngest of three children, in a household headed by a father with a “normal, full-time corporate job,” the rising star admits to having had a nondescript childhood.
During his adolescence, he was physically active, and developed a passion for soccer.
“I played soccer from elementary school all the way through to high school, so soccer was the one constant interest throughout my youth,” he reflects.
Following his high school graduation, however, Takenaka hung up his cleats and got a full-time job at a building maintenance company.
He was well on his way to leading a life as a Japanese salaryman. But soon, he stumbled upon a simple leisurely activity which would alter the trajectory of his life.
Inspired By A Video Game
At age 19, Takenaka noticed that his time away from the soccer field had started gnawing away at his physical fitness.
“I had not exercised for a while, and was looking for a way to regain my physical fitness,” he admits.
Ironically, the path to peak condition started with a video game.
One day, he was hanging out at his friend’s apartment. Looking to stave off boredom, his buddy turned to the PlayStation, and they just so happened to play a mixed martial arts video game.
Takenaka fiddled with the controller to throw strikes and takedowns, and found himself immediately intrigued.
“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.”
Takenaka did have a mild interest in the sport during his youth, but the video game helped turn it into a passion. It even motivated him to start training.
A Newfound Calling
One year later, aged 20, Takenaka walked through the doors of Paraestra Izumi to begin his formal training.
Though he quickly progressed, he found out even quicker that the sport was drastically tougher than the video game he played.
“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.”
That inspired Takenaka to test his recently-acquired skills in an amateur tournament, and then compete at the professional level beginning in June 2012.
In addition to being encouraged by one of his training partners, the Japanese warrior felt obligated to commit to fulfilling his potential.
“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.”
The budding martial artist fully immersed himself into his newfound passion, and reaped the fruits of his labor. He competed primarily in Shooto and Vale Tudo Japan, and amassed a phenomenal record of 10-0-1. Along the way, he captured the Shooto Pacific Rim Featherweight Championship.
A Physical, And Emotional, Setback
With his career on a tremendous upswing, the Shooto champion saw his momentum suddenly plummet.
In mid-2016, he sustained a knee injury during practice, and was forced out of action. He could neither train nor compete until he gained medical clearance.
As time passed, the extended layoff mentally drained the rising superstar.
“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.
Elaborating further on his setback, Takenaka felt as if life was leaving him behind as he languished on the sidelines.
“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,” he continues.
“Others were succeeding in work and life, which reinforced the stagnation in my life, and left me antsy with frustration.”
With his commitment to mixed martial arts tested, Takenaka nonetheless focused on improving his game, and prepared himself for the moment when he could pick up where he left off with a career that had just started to take off.
Soaring In ONE Championship
Takenaka’s perseverance – and patience – paid off.
He signed with ONE Championship as soon as his injury healed, and he prepared for an epic comeback in the world’s largest martial arts organization.
The warrior, now competing in a lighter weight class, opened eyes in his promotional debut. He defeated former ONE Bantamweight World Title challenger “Ottogi” Dae Hwan Kim at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD in February, and is now poised to rise up the ranks.
Should he defeat Alvarez in Shanghai, the Japanese athlete will undoubtedly move on to the cusp of World Title contention, where he could provide one of the division’s top athletes with a fresh new challenge.
Though Takenaka got a late start to his mixed martial arts journey, he has developed at a rapid pace, and now the former building maintenance worker hopes to influence fans with his performances inside the ONE cage.
“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.”
Shanghai | 8 September | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast