How Yuya Wakamatsu Went From Small-Town Boy To Rising Star
The 24-year-old meets American megastar Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson in the quarter-finals of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix, and he knows that victory would propel his career to a whole new level.
If the exciting knockout artist can overcome the 12-time Flyweight Mixed Martial Arts World Champion, then he would transform into a global superstar overnight and instantly become a frontrunner in the eight-man tournament.
Here is your chance to learn all about “Little Piranha” ahead of his titanic clash at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.
From The Country To The City
From the quiet streets of Satsumasendai to the bright lights of Tokyo, Yuya Wakamatsu's quest for greatness knows no limits.Jakarta | 22 September | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Facebook: Prelims LIVE | Twitter: Prelims + 2 Main-Card bouts LIVE | Tickets: http://bit.ly/oneconquest18
Posted by ONE Championship on Thursday, September 20, 2018
Wakamatsu was born and raised in Satsumasendai City, which is located in Japan’s Kagoshima prefecture. He was a middle child who lived in a rural setting with his parents and two sisters.
The flyweight was an unruly youth who often caused trouble, and he had the growing ego of a young man not yet checked by his martial arts endeavors.
“Back then, I wasn’t kind to other people. I was trash,” he admits.
“I didn’t do things like stealing. I just wanted to show how strong I am. I fought with anyone to prove I was the strongest.”
Life for Wakamatsu in Kagoshima became more difficult when his parents divorced during his middle school years. He lived with his mother and sisters, but it was hard to make ends meet.
“My family environment wasn’t good compared to other families,” he continues. “We also didn’t have money.”
Wakamatsu’s behavior was a major problem, and there were very few prospects for the family out in the country. The youngster left school and earned money by working as a carpenter, but his mother was drawn to the bright lights of the Japanese capital.
She moved with his sisters to Tokyo, but “Little Piranha” didn’t take the risk. Instead, he continued working his carpentry job in Satsumasendai City.
However, it wasn’t long before he joined the rest of his family.
“My mom and siblings came to Tokyo first. I was still in Kagoshima,” he says. “I wanted to come with them, but I couldn’t quit my job in Kagoshima. I was lonely without family, so I finally quit my job after one year and came to Tokyo.”
Moving to be with his family did not end his loneliness, though. On top of that, it was daunting for the small-town boy to live in the fast-paced city.
“When I came to Tokyo from Kagoshima, I didn’t know anyone. I was lonely,” he confesses. “I had friends in Kagoshima, but it was difficult to move here.”
Turning His Life Around In Tokyo
Although he experienced some loneliness in the Japanese capital, Wakamatsu powered through it and pursued a longtime passion.
“I wanted to do martial arts,” he explains.
“I fought every day in Kagoshima, but then my senior recommended mixed martial arts [to me], and that’s how I knew about it.
“It’s super rural [in Kagoshima]. Even if you want to do mixed martial arts, there isn’t a place to do it. Whatever you want to do, martial arts or work, Tokyo is the top place in Japan. That’s why I came here.”
As soon as Wakamatsu joined his mother and sisters, he immediately sought out a place to train. He had watched Ryo Chonan compete in top Japanese organization PRIDE, and decided Tribe Tokyo MMA was where he wanted to start his journey.
With no previous background in martial arts, “Little Piranha” jumped headfirst into his training at the age of 18. Both the sport and his new coach lived up to his expectations.
“I watched his fights and I admired him. Chonan’s fighting spirit was similar to mine, so I decided to join [Tribe Tokyo MMA],” he explains. “His guts and spirit were so cool. I fell in love with him.”
It didn’t take long for the journey to change the troublesome young man’s outlook on life. There were no more battles in the streets, as he matured and became more disciplined through martial arts.
Wakamatsu’s family supported his new pursuit and saw the changes in him instantly. In fact, the young flyweight recognized the changes in himself, too.
“Through mixed martial arts, I realized that the strongest person is kind, can respect other people, and their hearts are strong. When I realized that, I could finally change,” he states.
“My parents were very happy that I could fight in the right place rather than on the streets. They support me and come to watch my matches.”
Motivated By His Friend’s Memory
Through his constant training at Tribe Tokyo MMA, Wakamatsu made good friends in his adopted city, and it began to feel like home. His family was happier, and he had changed for the better.
However, he experienced one of the toughest moments in his life just a few years ago.
Wakamatsu’s teammate and close training partner Iyori Akiba died in a car accident in late August 2016 just days following his win at a DEEP show. They were the same age and began at Tribe Tokyo MMA around the same time.
“We practiced together on the day he died,” Wakamatsu recalls.
“That’s the last time we met. You never know what’s going to happen in your life. We trained hard together. We both had the same dream — to become a World Champion. But he died.
“It changed me a lot. I realized there are people who want to do it, but they can’t. It changed my attitude.”
The athletes at Tribe Tokyo MMA, and “Little Piranha” in particular, used this tragedy as motivation. Akiba never got to fulfill his dreams, but if the rest of the team works hard together, perhaps they could succeed in his honor.
“We supported each other and started training hard again. Tribe Tokyo became much stronger than before,” he says.
“Iyori is still in our hearts. His dream was to become a World Champion, the best in the world. That’s the reason I have to become a World Champion. If I can win against Demetrious Johnson, our dream can come true.”
A Chance To Become The Best
9️⃣ knockouts in his last 1️⃣0️⃣ bouts! ????Jakarta | 22 September | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/oneconquest18
Posted by ONE Championship on Saturday, September 15, 2018
After losing his professional debut in June 2015, Wakamatsu went on a nine-bout win streak with eight victories coming by way of knockout. Along the way, he became a Pancrase Flyweight Tournament Champion.
In 2018, he signed to the world’s largest martial arts organization and made his debut in a thrilling contest against Danny Kingad at ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES in September.
He dropped a close decision, but he showed glimpses of his striking repertoire — especially when dropped the Team Lakay product to the canvas in the opening stanza.
Now, with the home crowd behind him and the big show nerves out of the way, “Little Piranha” has the chance to topple a legend.
The Japanese athlete faces Johnson in the most spectacular martial arts showcase of all time. He believes he can win, but whatever the outcome, he has martial arts to thank for changing his fortunes and setting him on the right path in life.
“Thanks to martial arts, I can be a better person. I wouldn’t be who I am today without martial arts,” he says.
“This is the biggest chance of my life. I just need to do my best against Johnson in Japan. I think this is fate. A miracle can happen.”