It was not long ago that Ryogo “Kaitai” Takahashi faced an uncertain future in mixed martial arts, but if he defeats Thanh Le at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW, he will be within touching distance of his sport’s biggest prize.
Following a win in his ONE Championship debut last year, the Japanese hero will return to action next Friday, 10 January in an explosive match-up of knockout artists that could reveal the next challenger for Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen’s ONE Featherweight World Title.
Ahead of his date with destiny at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, the 30-year-old reveals how he has made the inspiring journey from unruly youth to become an elite competitor on the global stage.
Staying Out Of Trouble
Takahashi was raised in Akashi city in Hyogo Prefecture with a younger sister and brother.
Though he was left to his own devices during his upbringing, he says he was never got into trouble with his mother and father.
“I have no memory of them really scolding me,” he explains.
“I was a very conscientious kid. I looked to others and noticed for myself what was right or wrong.”
However, he got into difficulty when he let his temper get the better of him during a game of soccer in junior high school.
“Kaitai” was crazy about “the beautiful game” and played from the ages of 7 to 16, but he quit under a dark cloud after he was tackled hard from behind and reacted by kicking his opponent.
He was suspended from school for this violent reaction, but the silver lining of the experience was that he moved on by finding a new pursuit that would change his life forever.
“I realized then that if I continued soccer I would get into fight after fight,” he remembers.
“I thought soccer wasn’t good for me, so I started martial arts.”
Success In A New Sport
At the age of 16, Takahashi found Paraestra Dojo in the city of Kakogawa, and learned to control his short-temper by immersing himself in his new sport.
He did not stop there. He has always had a very competitive nature and soon looked to compete as a mixed martial artist.
He made a strong start as an amateur with a third-place finish in the West Japan Amateur Shooto Open tournament in 2008. He followed that by winning the West Japan Amateur Shooto Lightweight Championship in 2010.
The success set him up for a professional career that began in 2011, and he quickly built a reputation as one of Japan’s most promising young competitors with 5-1 record in the Kansai region of Japan.
With a desire to build on his impressive run, he moved to Tokyo in 2013 to learn from the late legend of Japanese martial arts, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto at the Krazy Bee Gym, and went on to win the Shooto Pacific Rim Featherweight Championship in 2016.
By the end of 2017, he was riding high on a six-bout winning streak, but he would soon have to deal with a setback that would either make him or break him.
Injury And Doubt
Money was always tight for the Hyogo native as he pursued his dream, but he never wavered in his commitment to reaching the top of the mixed martial arts world.
However, he broke his thigh bone in training in June 2018. The injury required four surgeries throughout the year and three months in hospital. Worse still, his leg was infected and he lost 10 kilograms while he was kept on a drip for a month.
He had never faced a stiffer test of his resolve.
“I was at conflict with myself the whole time – constantly worried,” he admits.
“I thought about quitting martial arts, but, I am the way I am – I’m positive. I couldn’t imagine myself without martial arts.”
Takahashi says the martial arts give him a reason to live. He loves the rush of competing one-on-one, as well as putting on exciting performances for the fans.
“The fun of martial arts is the average guy can come and watch something he can’t normally see,” he adds.
”It’s a bit like aristocrats watching ancient sports like gladiators fighting lions!”
The Ultimate Proving Ground
When he was back to full health, he was more motivated than ever, and just two weeks after he was cleared to train again, he received an offer to face Keanu Subba in ONE Championship.
The challenge posed by the Malaysian veteran was a big one, but “Kaitai” – which means ‘demolition’ in Japanese – showed no fear, and did everything in his power to rise to the occasion.
“I had three weeks to prepare so I focused on just my fitness,” he recalls.
“In the bout, my mind was blank and I couldn’t see his punches.”
Takahashi emerged with a win via second-round TKO, and that gave him a platform to go up against the best in the world with the striking power that has seen him earn nine of his 13 career wins by knockout.
His goal is to challenge for a World Title, and he knows the only way to do that is to keep winning and become renowned for bringing entertainment to The Home Of Martial Arts.
“What I must do is win every match this year, and I want to get in the media more,” he says.