Yuya “Little Piranha” Wakamatsu is proof that hard work and dedication can pay off in any profession to make you realize your dreams.
Just a few years ago, the Japanese sensation watched mixed martial arts World Champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson on his computer and dreamed of competing at the highest level like him.
Now, this Sunday, 31 March at ONE: A NEW ERA, he gets the chance to face him in ONE Championship in the quarter-final of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix.
Ahead of the biggest moment of life, Wakamatsu does not hide the fact that he is nervous, but he has worked tirelessly for months to make sure he is ready to face this challenge.
“To be honest with you, yes [I am afraid of him],” admits “Little Piranha.”
“To get rid of this fear, I train all day, every day. This is the biggest chance of my life.”
Johnson is a 12-time flyweight World Champion and is regarded by some as the greatest athlete in his sport’s history. His signing to the world’s largest martial arts organization caused a huge stir last year as part of The Home Of Martial Arts’ efforts to bring the world’s most elite athletes to Asia.
Every flyweight on the roster clamored for the opportunity to face “Mighty Mouse,” but it was “Little Piranha” who won the lottery when the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix bracket was announced.
That is a moment he will never forget.
“I was on the train to the gym and [coach, Ryo] Chonan called me,” the 24-year-old remembers.
“When Chonan told me that I got an offer and the opponent was Demetrious, it was like a dream. I accepted immediately. I was so excited.
“Before I started mixed martial arts, I watched Demetrious Johnson’s highlight videos. I was impressed by how strong a World Champion is. I respected him. I didn’t think that I could fight with a fighter who I admire, but my dream came true.”
Wakamatsu saw Johnson dominate in North America with his phenomenal skills. He admired the AMC Pankration athlete’s skill inside of the cage, and his humility outside of it.
Through his hard work and commitment to bettering himself through martial arts, “Little Piranha” became a star of Japan’s mixed martial arts scene. As a Pancrase Flyweight Tournament Champion and renowned knockout artist, he earned his spot on the global stage.
However, he is not entering the ring with Johnson at the Ryogoku Kokugikan to make up the numbers. The Tribe Tokyo MMA representative is prepared to stand toe-to-toe with the all-time great and prove he is a worthy adversary.
Just as ONE is doing with the biggest event in its history, Wakamatsu wants to shine a light on Japanese martial arts and prove his country’s athletes are a match for anyone.
“If I win against Johnson, I can prove to the world that mixed martial arts in Japan is strong,” he says.
“Before, people didn’t think that Japanese fighters are strong, but people will know that there are strong Japanese fighters.
“Becoming World Champion 12 times is amazing, but Johnson is also a human. If my punch hits him, I can KO him.”
More than anything, Wakamatsu hopes a courageous performance will inspire his countrymen. He did not have an easy path to martial arts success. He is just a simple man who turned his life around with vision and dedication.
“I was a carpenter in Kagoshima until very recently. If a guy like me who used to work a normal job wins against a World Champion, I think I will be a superstar,” says Wakamatsu.
“I just need to do my best against Johnson in Japan. I think this is fate. A miracle can happen.”