ONE Championship made great strides in late 2018 as it continued to cement its status as the world’s largest martial arts organization.
This was never more true than when it came to its movements in the Japanese market.
First, The Home Of Martial Arts announced it would host its first live Japan event — ONE: A NEW ERA — in Tokyo on Sunday, 31 March. Then, the promotion signed one of the most iconic figures in Asian mixed martial arts history.
Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama has announced his return to action, and he will compete under the ONE banner later this year.
His comeback will kick off the latest chapter of a decorated career, which includes stints in judo, kickboxing, and mixed martial arts.
It is a career that has seen him embrace challenges head-on in a bid to develop as a world-class martial artist and push himself to the limit.
Akiyama started training judo at the age of 3, and as he grew up, he eventually became one of the premier competitors on the South Korean judo team.
In 2001, he captured a gold medal at the Asian Judo Championships as a representative of South Korea, and then he followed it up by claiming gold at the 2002 Asian Games as a representative of Japan.
Following a decorated career on the mats, Akiyama sought fresh challenges outside of the judo sphere. He signed with the organization K-1 during the heyday of Japanese mixed martial arts, where he competed under its HERO’S banner.
He made his debut on New Year’s Eve 2004 against former heavyweight boxing World Champion Frans Botha – a power-punching South African who many believed would demolish his much smaller foe.
But “Sexyama” prevailed, winning the contest via first-round armbar.
“I remember my bout against a former boxing heavyweight champion,” he recalls. “The weight was different, but I knew I could win.”
After bouncing back from defeat to heavyweight kickboxing legend Jerome Le Banner in his second match-up, Akiyama embarked on a spectacular eight-bout win streak, with each victory coming via knockout or submission.
His final win in that run saw him finish Dutch striker Melvin Manhoef via first-round armbar to win the HERO’S Light Heavyweight Grand Prix. It capped a remarkable tournament campaign, which saw him score a trio of first-round finishes and establish himself as one of the best in the world.
During the next decade, he competed across the globe and maintained his status as one of the most popular superstars in the sport. However, it seemed like his time in the spotlight might be over after his last match – all the way back in November 2015.
But now, after three years away, the man known to his legion of fans around the world as “Sexyama” is back for what he says will be the final chapter of his competitive martial arts career.
“I started in judo, and then I went through K-1 HERO’S, UFC, and ONE Championship,” he says. “Now, my martial arts journey ends at ONE Championship.”
Akiyama hopes he can thrill the fans in Asia once more at the highest level.
Parallel to that goal, he is committed to offering himself as a role model to youngsters who want to follow in his footsteps.
“Martial arts is about being stronger, being gentle and kind to others,” he adds. “This is my principle, and it’s been important for me so far, and it will be the same in the future, too.”
With Akiyama looking to re-enter the fray as a middleweight, there is one man he would love to face in the ONE cage.
“Aung La N Sang – the current champion in my [weight] class,” he says.
That drive to be the best and face the best remains undimmed at the age of 43.
After a career that has already made him an icon, “Sexyama” is looking for one more run at the top.