There are few mixed martial artists with a career like Yuki Kondo’s.
The Japanese icon has had an incredible 103 professional contests since 1996, making him one of the most experienced competitors in the history of the sport.
Despite his century of bouts against dozens of well-known opponents, the 43-year-old will experience an occasion unlike any he has known before in his next match at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS.
Kondo will come face to face with another legend, Renzo Gracie, at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
Before this battle of heroes takes place on Friday, 27 July, learn what has brought “Sora” to this point.
Wanting To Be Like Jackie Chan
Kondo was fascinated by martial arts as a child in Niigata, Japan, and began to practice Shorinji Kempo – a Japanese style derived from Shaolin kung fu.
He started when he was in elementary school in an attempt to emulate his hero from the big screen.
“The reason I started is that I liked Jackie Chan,” he explains. “I thought I could learn kung fu, but once I started, I realized they were different.”
Despite his surprise, he dedicated himself to mastering the art and trained hard – driven by his strict parents who instilled a strong work ethic in him.
He built a foundation of skills that have served him throughout his career, before rising to the rank of second-degree black belt
“Back then, I learned body movements and footwork. I think that is still my base even now,” he says.
Kondo also found an outlet that would give his life purpose, and a way out of a life working an ‘ordinary’ job.
“Maybe without martial arts, I would have done some sort of work in a rural area in Niigata,” he explains. “I would have lived an ordinary life. I think I would have lived life without any meaning.”
Learning The Hard Way
By the time Kondo graduated from high school, the Pancrase organization had launched and promoted the first mixed martial events in Japan.
In contrast to the matches between pro wrestlers with predetermined outcomes that were popular at the time, this was the real thing – serious bouts pitting skilled martial artists against one another.
However, to survive among the seasoned competitors in the promotion, he had to step up his training, and connected with some of his idols. They were notorious for pushing themselves and their teammates to the limit to be among the best in the world.
“The hardest time in my martial arts career is when I entered Pancrase after graduating from high school. 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 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.”
Long Live The King
A tough education among some of Japan’s fiercest competitors provided the perfect platform to begin his career in Pancrase.
He had his first professional contest in January 1996, and has competed actively ever since across an incredible 103 bouts. During that time, he picked up the Middleweight, Light Heavyweight, and Openweight King of Pancrase titles.
His achievements and staying power have rightfully earned him legendary status in the martial arts community. Kondo reluctantly accepts that label, but is determined to stay humble and credit others for his success.
“People call me a ‘legend’ but I don’t think so at all, but I’m honored to be called a ‘legend,’” he says.
“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.”
Kondo admits he is far prouder of any positive influence he may have on other people’s lives, over his own success.
He hopes fans will be inspired by his longevity, and the fact he continues to compete at the age of 43. Acting as an ambassador for Japan also fills him with pride.
“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.”
A Meeting Of Legends
Kondo has done so much in his career, but his assignment on Friday, 27 July will be a completely new experience, as he makes his debut in The Home Of Martial Arts.
His opponent will be a fellow icon of the game, Renzo Gracie – a man the Japanese star admires greatly.
“I think he is a legend. Everyone knows him, and he has many achievements. I’m honored to fight with him,” he says.
“I’m full of motivation and I’m focused. I’m ready to show all I have.”
Coming into this legend versus legend contest, Kondo’s primary concern is not to win. After competing for so long and doing it all, his goal is simply to give fans an experience they will not forget.
“I hope we will have an intense bout and leave it in everyone’s memory,” he adds.
“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.”