Ken Hasegawa rose to international superstardom when he faced two-division ONE World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang for the middleweight crown in June 2018, and that spectacular battle was praised by their fans and fellow martial artists all around the globe.
It was named “The Greatest Bout In ONE Championship History,” and for his part in it, Hasegawa will be remembered fondly.
However, he is not content with being known as a runner-up. The competitor’s true ambition is to become the ONE Middleweight World Champion, and he has another chance to accomplish that goal.
The first contest took place in front of Aung La N Sang’s vocal supporters in Yangon, Myanmar, but this time, Hasegawa will have the backing of his countrymen at ONE: A NEW ERA in Tokyo, Japan on Sunday, 31 March.
Before he returns to action at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, learn all about the World Title challenger’s martial arts journey.
Driven By Competition
UNBELIEVABLE warrior spirit ⤵️Yangon | 26 October | 6:00PM | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onegreatness18
Posted by ONE Championship on Sunday, October 21, 2018
Hasegawa was born in Kanagawa, Japan in 1987, but he did not pick up martial arts until he became a teenager. His father was a judoka, and he wanted to pass on the skill and discipline to his son.
At the behest of his parent, he first stepped onto the mats as a high school freshman.
“I started judo when I was 15,” he reveals. “My dad used to do it, so he recommended it to me. I fell in love with it immediately.”
The teenager had an immediate aptitude for ‘the gentle way,’ and he quickly earned his black belt in the throwing and grappling art.
Competition, in particular, piqued his interest. To the Japanese teenager, there was no feeling like putting his skills to the test against his peers.
“I liked the fighting style. It was fun to compete, one-on-one, me and the opponent,” the third-dan black belt explains.
As his interest in competition grew, he came across mixed martial arts on television and enjoyed the intensity of the action. He decided to start cross-training in different styles with the intention of making a move into the fast-growing sport.
The more Hasegawa trained, the more he fell in love with every aspect of combat, and now, it has become an irreplaceable part of his life.
“I can learn from everything. Everything is connected. It is all fun,” he explains.
“[Martial arts] enriched my life. I enjoy doing it. I can meet people through it. I learn new things every day. That daily excitement leads to my motivation. I can’t imagine life without martial arts.”
Hasegawa’s passion for learning and testing his new skills led him to the cage in November 2010, and his desire for constant evolution helped him become one of Japan’s finest combatants.
In fact, he went undefeated in his first 13 bouts as a professional and even claimed the DEEP Megaton World Championship.
At 15-1-1, his career had been an unprecedented success, and his progress had all been in an upward direction. However, when he met Ryuichiro Sumimura at DEEP Cage Impact 2017, the Yokohama native suffered a major injury.
Hasegawa was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc after the DEEP Welterweight World Title contest, and the outlook was bleak.
“The doctor told me that there was a chance I couldn’t move from the neck down,” he recalls.
“My hands stopped working. It was very painful. I couldn’t look up, and I couldn’t sleep for longer than two hours. It was a tough time. I was worried that I may not be able to fight again.”
Just as painful as the physical injury, so were the changes in his relationship with others. During his rehabilitation, friends grew distant until they finally disappeared.
“People around me changed. Some people left me,” the Japanese star details. “It was sad. Everyone was unnatural [around me]. I was sensitive, so it was very tough.”
However, Hasegawa learned who was there for him no matter what, and that gave him the strength to find a way back to the sport he loves.
The real friends and family members made it possible for him to overcome his darkest hour, and now every time he takes to the cage, he does it for them.
“Some people left me, but some people kept supporting me. I really thank them,” he says.
“I also had good teammates. Because of them, I thought I should try until my body breaks down. I started again little by little. Thanks to them, I recovered. I became much stronger.
“Also, I understood how important it is to have people like them. I want to give back to them.”
Dreaming Of Something Bigger
Hasegawa became an overnight superstar in The Home Of Martial Arts following his incredible contest with Aung La N Sang, but he is not satisfied.
The Japanese athlete has tasted success before. He amassed an exemplary record in his native country and became the DEEP Megaton World Champion.
However, now that he is performing on the global stage, his ambitions have grown along with his platform.
“It’s very important for me to win the [ONE Middelweight] World Title,” he reveals.
“For my final goal, it would be great if I could influence the people around me.
“I thought I did [martial arts] for myself when I started. I do it because I like it. Nobody asked me to become a fighter. But [now], I want to win for my supporters. I want to have a fight that excites them. I want to make them proud.”
Hasegawa blew the fans away with his display of courage and tenacity in Yangon, but now there will be even more eyeballs on his rematch in Tokyo.
It is one of the co-main events on the biggest ONE card of all time, and people also know what to expect when he gets into the cage with “The Burmese Python” — a stunning display of warrior spirit and skill from two elite competitors.
The stakes have never been higher, but Hasegawa has never been more motivated for success, and this is the perfect time for him to reach a worldwide audience of millions and show them the positivity of martial arts.
“Many people told me that my last match inspired them,” he said. But, from the sounds of it, he is just getting started.