Yuki Kondo has more than 100 mixed martial arts battles to his name at the respectable age of 43. But in the beginning, he was pretty much like every other kid on the block.
There were Jackie Chan movies playing, pro-wrestling was on television every Saturday afternoon, and he loved all of it.
Growing up in Niigata, Japan, Kondo went to a school that didn’t have a wrestling department, but there was Shorinji Kempo. So he followed up on his childhood dreams and joined.
Since there weren’t too many high schools with Kempo in his prefecture, it was a fast path to national level competitions and advancement.
“I wanted to be a kung fu fighter,” Kondo said.
His interest shifted to pro-wrestling when he observed that kung fu fighting was for the streets and might not be the greatest way to live one’s life. Kondo wanted to fight in the ring, develop his own style and perform. He was highly influenced by UWF and when Funaki defeated Takada, that was it for him. Pancrase and the newly emerging sport of mixed martial arts was what he wanted to do.
His parents – of course – were the last to know about his decision, since he decided that right out of high school he was going to apply for the position at the gym, not at a university. Kondo was accepted and that’s when his kung fu dream became a nightmare.
“The atmosphere of the dojo itself was not easy,” Kondo said. “It was the hardest time of my life.”
There was homesickness, hard practice with men much his elder and superior, and no personal time. If he even thought about quitting, it would have been easy to do it right then and there. Kondo steeled his mind. It was an early indicator of his future style.
“I decided to take the word ‘stop’ out of my head,” Kondo said.
That was 1996. For the next 22 years, Kondo didn’t stop. He made an MMA resume that stands as one of the longest, most prolific and impressive to date. He beat Frank Shamrock, Semmy Schilt, Mario Sperry, Minowaman, Jason DeLucia, and even his mentor Funaki. Kondo stepped into the PRIDE ring with Wanderlei, Dan Henderson, and Igor Vovchanchyn.
At Pancrase, he became the King of three weight divisions making multiple defenses in each: middleweight, light heavyweight and openweight. Kondo also made three appearances in the early days of the UFC. His incredible disposition under adversity earned him the ring name “Immovable Heart”.
“The fear of an opponent who walks through punches or who has incredible technique is quite powerful. But I don’t like to feel fear. So, I studied myself, I guess overcame the fear towards the battle. I don’t get upset. I will myself to demonstrate 100% of my capabilities. Don’t allow your emotions to control you.”
Taken fight by fight, Kondo has applied this philosophy to an incredible extent. However, experiencing the ups and downs of a such a long career in MMA must be emotionally daunting.
“I never had the thought that I’ve ‘made it to the top’. And I don’t think about the past. If I lose a fight, I don’t rethink it because I still believe the same outcome would happen 10 out of 10 times.
“It gives me something to aim for, it’s a desire to become stronger than my opponent. Of course my desire to win is amazing. And I’m thankful to all my supporters, they are the reason I’ve been able to keep going for so long.”
This Friday Kondo will face fellow legend Renzo Gracie at ONE Championship: Reign of Kings in Manila. This won’t be his first time in front of a Gracie; he lost to Roger a decade ago in Sengoku. Whether this will be a revenge match or an intimidating opponent, Kondo remains in his typical calm and secretive manner.
“It’s true that the Gracies were important to the development in MMA,” he said, and that finished his words on the subject of his opponent.
“I’m thankful to everyone in my career,” Kondo adds.
“I’ve appreciated every match, every rivalry. Every opponent in my life has been wonderful.”
The only other feature of this fight upon which he expressed himself was the cage. He’ll be facing Renzo in ONE’s huge, round expanse of grey canvas.
“I first experienced the cage in the UFC,” Kondo said. “I felt comfortable because it was such a huge area. I prefer the cage. For MMA, it’s more meaningful.”
Upon concluding a conversation with a man of Kondo’s incredible longevity in MMA, it seemed frustratingly natural to enquire about what comes after. Kondo pensively responded,
“I like snowboarding and skiing – I haven’t been able to go for a long time. But I can’t even imagine a future after MMA. I always wanted to be Jackie Chan, not his master. MMA is irreplaceable in my life.”