Kickboxing Superstar Masaaki Noiri Wants Victims Of Bullying To Take Courage From His Story

Masaaki Noiri

Japanese kickboxing sensation Masaaki Noiri endured a tough childhood before he found martial arts. 

It’s hard to imagine it now as he prepares for a colossal debut clash against Sitthichai “Killer Kid” Sitsongpeenong at ONE 167 on Prime Video, but Noiri suffered at the hands of bullies when he was young. 

However, the former two-division K-1 World Champion is proof that even the downtrodden can fight back to reach great heights, and he wants to inspire others when he faces an all-time great in U.S. primetime on Friday, June 7. 

Before the 31-year-old steps into the Circle at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, find out how he went from being harassed in school corridors to competing on the global stage. 

A Harsh Start To School Life 

Noiri was born in Nagoya, a large city in central Japan’s Aichi Prefecture.  

He grew up with his parents as the youngest of three brothers, which led to some rough and tumble, but overall, family life was good.

He told

“My siblings were four and six years older than me. I was closest with my oldest brother, but I often fought with the middle brother.” 

The same could not be said for his school life. Noiri had a hard time in his early years because he was picked on and abused by other kids. 

Reflecting on what happened, he said:  

“I used to be bullied when I was little. 

“In the second grade of elementary school, I was the second shortest in my class height-wise. The shortest kid would scratch me.  

“The kids would also take me to the hallways in the school building and hit me. I didn’t do anything wrong though.” 

A Lifeline From Karate 

Thankfully, the intervention of a family friend helped put a stop to the relentless bullying Noiri received. Just as importantly, it set him on his path in martial arts at around 7 years old. 

He said: 

“I started karate in December of second grade. When I was being bullied, it was my middle brother’s friend who came to stop it. That friend did karate, so that’s how I got into it.” 

Noiri was initially happy to find an endeavor that might help him keep the bullies at bay, but it became so much more.  

The youngster started with his family, but as they drifted away, his love for martial arts grew stronger – and he found role models at the gym who kept him motivated:

“I simply wanted to get stronger, so I started karate. I was really excited for my first class. My two brothers and dad all started together. Around three months in, I had my first match.  

“My dad and oldest brother quickly quit after that. Eventually, my middle brother quit too. Everyone else quit, but I stuck with it because it was fun and I had nothing else. 

“I don’t think I had any natural talent at all. In my early matches, I lost by ippon against a girl and cried after losing, but there was a senior I looked up to at the same dojo, and I stuck with it for a long time because I admired him.” 

Finding His Calling In Kickboxing 

Noiri enjoyed success in karate, winning regional and national tournaments in elementary school, but he was then introduced to kickboxing.  

At 11 years old, he tried out the new style for the first time, and by 13, he knew it was the sport for him. Still, it took some firm words to get him fully committed.

He recalled: 

“Kickboxing was an extension of karate for me. I went full kickboxing in the second grade of middle school, then I started doing amateur kickboxing competitions. 

“Initially, I was just messing around and not really focused on martial arts. When I lost in the semifinals of a tournament, I was told, ‘If you don’t have the motivation, just quit!’ That made me determined to get my revenge.” 

Now fully zoned in on what he wanted to do with his life, Noiri trained at every opportunity and started teaching others to help make ends meet. 

Though he tried to pursue education at the same time, he eventually dropped out of university when he moved to the capital city of Tokyo:

“I was an instructor teaching karate at the gym, and when I didn’t have my own practice, I taught kickboxing to general members. 

“I used to go to a gym in Nagoya, but due to certain circumstances, I had to leave that gym and move to Tokyo, so I couldn’t commute to university anymore. I quit university in my second or third year.” 

Showing Others What Courage Can Achieve 

Having made the full-time switch to kickboxing and competing on one of the hottest circuits in the world in Tokyo, the rising star’s efforts began to pay dividends.  

Noiri racked up some prestigious Japanese titles, before taking the first of his standout accolades with the K-1 World Grand Prix Super Lightweight Championship in 2017. 

He then added the welterweight title to his name in 2021, which he describes as one of his best moments in martial arts:

“I am proud of when I won the welterweight belt, as I had three fights in one day, and I won all three by KO.” 

An incredible run of form has now led him to ONE Championship, where he has equally high hopes in the most stacked division in kickboxing.  

Training alongside superstar teammate Takeru Segawa, Noiri is gunning for the ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Title, but he’s not motivated by his own ego. 

Instead, the Japanese striker looks back to his childhood as a victim of bullying and wants to show any young person in a similar position that they’re not alone – and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Noiri added: 

“When I was bullied, I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it out of embarrassment, so I kept it to myself.  

“I think there are kids all over the world in that same situation. I want to fight in a way that gives them courage when they watch me.” 

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