The path to greatness is never a smooth one, and Pancrase Flyweight World Champion Senzo Ikeda has experienced some bumps on the road to ONE Championship.
He did not have a privileged upbringing or the same opportunities as many of his peers, and his frustration with school and study left him without confidence.
Yet he battled the odds, his demons, and the best athletes in Japan to rise to the top and reach the global stage.
Thanks to a unique style that comes from his boxing background, he became known as a thrilling athlete to watch, and he wants to show that when he returns to the Circle at ONE: CENTURY PART I against Lito Adiwang.
Before that match in Tokyo, Japan, the 37-year-old reveals how he climbed out of obscurity and into the world’s largest martial arts organization.
In With The Wrong Crowd
Ikeda was born in the city of Sendai where he grew up as an only child, and he was often left to fend for himself as his parents worked long hours to make ends meet.
He struggled at school, and felt alienated his early years because he was left behind in class.
“My parents were busy, and not at home much, so I often didn’t go to school. I felt like our family was different from others,” he reflects.
“I couldn’t keep up with regular homework, and often didn’t turn it in.”
He also lacked focus when it came to sports. He played baseball in elementary school and soccer in junior high school, but abandoned his ambitions in each when he lost interest and gave up.
He then started to associate with a bad crowd and chose not to go to high school altogether. However, as he matured, he could feel something had to change if he were to take control of his life. He had always been a frail, skinny child, so he chose to pursue something to strengthen his body and mind.
“I left junior high school, and I had nothing to do. I found boxing at around 16 years old, and I thought it would be good to make myself strong,” he says.
“At that time, I was heading down a bad path, hanging out with some bad guys getting into trouble. I realized I had to change myself. I had a weak mentality, and I just couldn’t keep at it [at first].
“In the first two years, I gave up and went back again over and over. The training was strict, and I was not achieving anything.”
Boxing And Building Mental Strength
Ikeda decided not to give up on changing himself through “the sweet science,” and eventually joined Dream Boxing Gym at the age of 19 to start from scratch.
After 18 months of hard training, he made his professional debut, which was the catalyst to him realizing his potential as a true warrior in the ring.
“I was over-confident in my pro debut. I was nervous, but I thought I could win easily. When the fight started I took a huge punch, and I thought, ‘That really hurt!’” he remembers
“It was like being hit by a baseball bat, and I thought, ‘This guy is good!’ I had to get active or he was going to beat me.
“I was knocked down in the last 10 seconds of the first round and completely lost consciousness, but I was saved by the bell. I don’t remember anything, but I came out and fought desperately, and won in the fourth round.”
He racked up a perfect 8-0 record and won two regional belts, but he became frustrated when he struggled to find matches, and soon confided in a friend that he would leave another sport behind.
Persevering With A New Challenge
A friend suggested he should use his talents for mixed martial arts, so he went to watch a class at Freedom@Oz Gym, under head coach, Seiji Ozuka, and was hooked.
Though he had an exceptional professional boxing base to lean on, he was relatively old at the age of 30 to get started in this new sport, and he found grappling training tough.
However, he slowly picked up techniques and began to hang with his training partners, implement his boxing into his skill set, and exorcise the ghosts of his past.
“At first, they were all over me in training. I was getting taken down and submitted constantly,” he explains.
“I knew my mentality had been weak, but the feeling of not wanting to lose to myself was strong. I’d quit boxing, but I had to make that weak version of me stronger. I had to overcome my weakness and change myself.
“I started to figure out the movements more, and was finally able to use my striking.
“In mixed martial arts, the techniques and possibilities are endless. Some think that being 37 is old for a fighter, but the attraction of mixed martial arts is you can keep learning and getting stronger. Age is not important.”
Pancrase To ONE
The proof of Ikeda’s perseverance and evolution as an athlete came in his run to become the flyweight King Of Pancrase.
He faced physical setbacks on the way, but his time came when he challenged Japanese legend and former Shooto World Champion, Mamoru Yamaguchi in a rematch for the belt in August 2017.
Ikeda battled hard and captured the crowd’s imagination as he refused to back down and constantly pressured his rival with his exciting, unorthodox striking, and avenged a loss convincingly after five rounds.
He believed in himself, believed he would become the best flyweight in Japan, and he confirmed that status when he won an incredible war with Yuya “Little Piranha” Wakamatsu in February 2018.
That was his final bout on his domestic scene before he made the jump to the global stage. Now, having joined The Paraestra Matsudo gym last December 2018 to train with some of the best athletes in Japan like Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito, he plans to showcase his crowd-pleasing style in the strawweight division.
“I knew I would be the champion [of Pancrase],” he says.
“Now, the most important thing for me is becoming the ONE Strawweight World Champion. Joshua Pacio is the best right now, and I want to work my way to a World Title match with him.”
Tokyo | 13 October | ONE: CENTURY | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onecentury19
ONE: CENTURY is the biggest World Championship martial arts event in history with 28 World Champions featured across various martial arts. No organization in history has ever promoted two full-scale World Championship events on the same day.
The Home Of Martial Arts will break new ground as it brings multiple World Title bouts, a trio of World Grand Prix Championship Finals, and several World Champion versus World Champion matches to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan on 13 October.