Anime played a pivotal role in the early lives of many ONE Championship athletes, and it planted the seeds for their success as adults.
Without these Japanese animations, the promotion’s modern-day warriors might not have witnessed the great feats of athleticism, perseverance, and inner strength that inspired them on their respective martial arts journeys.
Now, four of the organization’s finest mixed martial arts stars explain what anime means to them and how it helped to shape their futures.
One of Japan’s biggest mixed martial arts stars, Yushin “Thunder” Okami, frequently watched anime shows on television during his childhood. In fact, he still catches some of these anime programs when he gets spare time.
However, the welterweight athlete’s perspective has changed a little bit. “Thunder” once modeled himself on his anime heroes, but now, the tables have turned and they are modeled on him.
“I like anime. I used to watch it a lot as a kid. My favorites were Dragon Ball, Touch, and Doraemon,” he says.
“Now, I like Attack On Titan. The hero of the anime named ‘Eren’ turns into a Titan, and I heard that my body is the model of the shape of the Titan. I am so honored by it!”
Okami believes these type of shows offer endless benefits for a youngster’s imagination, and he feels that carries over well into the world of martial arts.
“Anime allows us to imagine freely,” he explains.
“I think mixed martial arts is also the type of art with no limits. Receiving the stimulation from its freewheeling thinking and storyline, I would like to continue trying to develop my one and only style of martial arts.”
Japanese-South Korean icon Yoshihiro “Sexy Yama” Akiyama has served as an inspiration for legions of aspiring martial artists, but some of his motivation came from his favorite anime series and their protagonists.
He was influenced by the likes of Master Roshi from Dragon Ball, Bem from Humanoid Monster Bem, and Kaibutsu Tarō from The Monster Kid, along with many others.
“I love anime. I was brought up watching it a lot,” he reveals.
Akiyama was also an avid gamer, and in today’s Esports climate, he believes there is room to blend the fantasy worlds of gaming and anime with the reality of martial arts.
“In video games, sometimes the moves are similar to martial arts, and we can learn from it and do [visualization] training. Likewise, anime is good material, and I think we can do [visualization] training, too,” he offers.
“Therefore, I think it is indispensable content for martial artists. It would be nice if we could create a new sport blending martial arts in the real world and Esports, without treating them separately.”
Malaysian featherweight Keanu Subba was a massive fan of Slam Dunk, an anime show that focused on Hanamichi Sakuragi and his Shōhoku High School basketball team.
Sakuragi was initially a delinquent, but through his commitment to sports and his unfaltering determination, he turned his life around.
“I see a lot of myself in this character. He was always the odd one out who didn’t talk much and got into a lot of trouble in school,” Subba explains.
“He was a guy with a lot of energy and basketball helped tone him down. He started out as a terrible basketball player, but with constant practice, he was able to turn into a great team player.
“It just goes to show that if you want it bad enough and really put in the time, you can be great at anything.”
Hard-hitting flyweight Yuya “Little Piranha” Wakamatsu also loved to immerse himself in the fantasy world of anime and manga. Some of his favorites were Dragon Ball, Kingdom, Vagabond, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Baki The Grappler.
Much like his own career inside the Circle, “Little Piranha” believes the heroes are raised to new levels by the strength of their opposition.
“I like them because of the appearance of strong enemies,” he says.
But his love for anime and manga runs deeper than most people would imagine. In fact, Wakamatsu enjoyed the protagonist of Vagabond so much, he named his baby boy after him.
“I have been inspired a lot by anime and manga, including deciding my son’s name, Musashi,” he reveals.