On Friday, 3 May, ONE Championship will welcome a legend of Japanese mixed martial arts into its ranks.
The veteran of 47 professional matches has competed in countries and promotions around the world, but his 48th will be his first chance to showcase his skills in the world’s largest martial arts organization.
Before he enters the Circle for his co-main event clash with Kiamrian Abbasov at the Istora Senayan, discover how “Thunder” became an icon of his sport, and how he finally found his way to ONE.
Coming Out Of His Shell
Okami grew up in Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, but in contrast to the strong, confident athlete he is today, he was reserved as a child.
“When I was little, I was a bit shy,” he admits.
“I was scared of challenging myself to try new things. Whether it was baseball, soccer, judo, budō, or kendo. As much as I wanted to do these things, I was too afraid to actually do them.”
“I was comfortable around people I knew for a long time, but, if I had a new class or had to be in a new environment, I wasn’t very outgoing.”
He lacked confidence, but that began to grow once he took up the ancient martial art of judo in high school. Through his training, he found new friends and started to come out of his shell.
“I made friends, who I trained with, and felt the exhilaration you feel after a win, and the frustration after a loss, and by experiencing these feelings, I felt very accomplished,” he explains.
“As a result, I gained some confidence, discovered a sport I respected, and made some friends.”
The Death Of A Dream
Despite discovering a sense of focus and purpose in judo, Okami’s ultimate dream was to become a professional wrestler with the world-famous New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
“Ever since I was a child, it was my dream,” he says.
“I’m not really sure why, but ever since I can remember, I loved pro wrestling. It could be because of my dad. I carried that fascination with me.”
His desire to make it went much further than most fans, too, as he reveals he gave it his all to actually make it as a performer inside the squared circle.
“Yes, I tried to become a pro wrestler. I failed twice!” he laughs.
“I could tell the examiners from New Japan Pro-Wrestling expected me to do well. I got through the tryout without trouble, but the examiners told me, they didn’t see a fire in my eyes. So, that first time around, I failed, but, New Japan Pro-Wrestling told me they wanted me to try again, and I went back to training.
“The second time around it was a group tryout. I’m probably just making excuses, but I had a lot of back problems at that time. The first item on the test was to do a Hindu squat 500 times. I couldn’t complete that part because of my back, and I failed. I wasn’t ready at all.
A New Passion
After seeing his dream of becoming a pro wrestler fall short not once, but twice, Okami returned to his training with thoughts of a third attempt to impress the scouts.
Upon the suggestion of a friend, he checked out the Wajutsu Keishukai mixed martial arts gym, where he hoped he would improve his all-around athleticism. But, rather than prepare him for life in the wrestling ring, it led to Okami making a career choice that would transform his life.
“Even then, my desire was not to become a professional mixed martial artist. It was a means of training to become a pro wrestler,” he says.
“That was after I failed the second time. Someone told me to try one more time, and despite failing twice, I wasn’t ready to give up, but I knew I would just fail again if I continued to train alone. So, with my mutual friend’s introduction, I started mixed martial arts.
“About a week into my training at this new gym, a representative from the mixed martial arts world asked me if I was interested in participating in an upcoming fight. Not fully understanding what that meant, I said okay. It was a tournament, and my first one with an audience. It was a completely different atmosphere than judo.”
Despite just six months of training, “Thunder” entered the eight-man amateur bracket, and won three matches in a row to become tournament champion.
From then on, he had a new goal – he wanted to test himself against the best competitors in the world.
“The feelings of exhilaration and happiness I felt after winning were feelings I had never experienced before in judo, or in life,” he remembers.
“Somewhere in experiencing those feelings, I lost sight of my dream to become a pro wrestler. I fell in love with mixed martial arts and decided I wanted to compete again in this world. My desire to become a pro wrestler went out the window.”
A New Chapter
Four years after his amateur triumph, Okami began a professional mixed martial arts career that has seen him compete for PRIDE, Pancrase, M-1 Global, and the UFC across five continents.
He has amassed a 35-12 record competing from welterweight up to light heavyweight and built a reputation as a well-rounded athlete who can pose a tough challenge among the world’s elite.
Now, at the age of 37, the EXFight representative has returned to his roots to compete in Asia on the biggest stage in martial arts with ONE, and he cannot wait to make his debut against Abbasov at ONE: FOR HONOR.
“I feel the excitement to my core,” he says.
“I’m honored to be able to compete in this kind of event, and I understand how big of a competition this is in martial arts. I respect it very much as an Asian, and my number one motivation is to prove myself as Yushin Okami in that space.
“I’m very proud of the fact that I am Japanese and that I learned budō in Japan, and that I learned mixed martial arts in Japan. I’m proud to show the mixed martial arts I’ve learned in Japan to the world, by competing in the ONE Championship.
“I can’t wait to compete in ONE Championship, and I hope to give everyone watching entertainment, I hope they can feel the spirit of budō, and I hope they can feel my passion as an athlete.”
Jakarta | 3 May | 6:00PM | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/oneforhonor1