Kazunori Yokota knows he is in a battle with Father Time.
The 39-year-old Chiba, Japan native admitted last year that his career was headed towards the end, but he has a few more important things he wants to accomplish before he leaves the cage for good.
“Before I retire,” he begins, “I also want to perfectly win overseas.”
Yokota (26-7-3) has experienced a wealth of success in Japan, as he captured both the DEEP Lightweight and Featherweight Championships. But he wants to test himself in the international waters against the world’s best martial artists.
The Japanese athlete has admittedly experienced a rough go since joining ONE Championship in May 2016. He made his promotional debut on a 13-bout win streak against then-ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov for the title. He wound up succumbing to rear-naked choke late in the second round, and have his streak snapped.
“Marat was a great martial artist,” Yokota says. “I had trouble dealing with the hydration tests, so I want to challenge him again in a better condition.”
Yokota was given a second bout in January 2017 against future two-division ONE World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen. Although he was successful darting at his rival with his jab, the Australian dropped him with his signature overhand right, and swarmed with punches before the referee stopped the bout in the first round.
Still, after a lifetime of competing a certain way, Yokota says he had trouble adjusting to ONE’s revolutionary weigh-in program, which bans weight cutting by dehydration.
“I had difficulty with the urine test again,” he admits. “So I am trying to stay hydrated (this time).”
He believes his third promotional match with Lee will indeed be the charm.
Ever since Lee’s defeat at the hands of current two-division ONE World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen in August 2016, the 19-year-old took a much-needed break from the cage to recharge his batteries and correct his approach.
Feeling refreshed, the Singaporean teenage sensation returned in April 2017, and has looked mature beyond his years. While still pushing a relentless pace, he attacks rivals with a more controlled aggression, and finds himself on a three-bout win streak.
Most recently, he knocked out former ONE Lightweight World Champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku in December, which tied Amir Khan’s record for most stoppage victories in ONE Championship history with eight.
Yokota knows the talent Lee possesses, but does not feel threatened by his talent or speed.
“He is just young and vigorous. I do not see any problems facing him,” the Japanese athlete plainly states.
While Yokota certainly wants to win overseas, he also would love nothing more than to make a final run at the ONE Featherweight World Championship. He believes he has all of his weigh-in issues figured out, and a victory over Lee would surely put him on the right track to world championship gold.
For now, though, he has to concentrate on the task at hand, simply saying: “I just want to focus and win each bout that is in front of me.”
Yokota can worry about the world title later. The top priorities are securing a win in Kuala Lumpur, and to continue his battle with Father Time.