Big topic in the JMMA media right now following the partnerships ONE Championship has formed with national martial arts treasures, Shooto and Pancrase, is the transition fighters will make as they consistently rank high and become champions. The King of Pancrase title in particular has held an esoteric appeal with a time-honored status behind it, attainable only by the select few athletes who have put in arduous work and consistency, coupled with the public record of having faced the best around.
King of PANCRASE
Two flyweights with accolades from the Pancrase organization will fight on the same card on March 31st as ONE Championship holds its inaugural show on Japan soil: Senzo Ikeda and Yuya Wakamatsu. Ikeda claimed the Flyweight King of Pancrase belt when he toppled the then champ, and former plural Shooto champ, Mamoru Yamaguchi, at Pancrase 289 in the summer of 2017. He not only outmaneuvered, but out-struck Mamoru, who is known for his clinical striking and savvy fight approach. He then went on to defend his title against a frighteningly fast fight stopper 12 years his junior: Yuya Wakamatsu.
That defense was a hugely anticipated main event, and both showed an outstanding display of athleticism, skill, speed, and sheer will to survive. A classic and fierce naguriai, or “punch up” unfolded into the championship rounds where few thought it would reach. The challenger, with only three years of experience as a professional fighter at the time, hailing from the champion making factory, Tribe Tokyo MMA, under the management and head coaching of Pride and UFC veteran, Ryo Chonan, was a young KO merchant, Wakamatsu.
Wakamatsu stormed onto the scene when he took part in the 22nd Neo Blood Flyweight tournament and stopped all of his opponents and came out on top. Although a rookie tournament, the fashion in which he won opened not just a few eyes. It was clear the flyweight division was dealing with a new breed of quick and powerful hands, vicious ground and pound, and destructive knees.
The King of Pancrase champion himself, Senzo Ikeda, transitioned from professional boxing, and although a short career of 8 wins, it is an unblemished record. His MMA skills are unquestionable, showing submission skills and proving very hard to take down. Ikeda’s title defense to Wakamatsu was a FOTY contender and a battle for the ages. Both still going fast and strong into the 4th round, Wakamatsu nearly stopped the champ with a big right cross in the last 30 seconds but somehow survived the onslaught to see the 5th. Ikeda summoned his deepest warrior and even showed superior conditioning as his strikes found a home and he finished the challenger off with knees in a phenomenal comeback.
A New Era – March 31st in Tokyo, Japan
Yet they will not face each other (yet!) as they enter the ONE Championship Flyweight World Grand Prix. Ikeda’s quarter final opponent is young Filipino and once ONE flyweight championship title challenger, Danny “The King” Kingad. Interestingly, Kingad welcomed Wakamatsu to ONE Championship and handed him his third loss ever, so it appears that these two “Kings” have a few things in common.
By all accounts, both Ikeda and Wakamatsu have landed a huge opportunity, but will have to face the highest level of competition in their careers in the Flyweight World Grand Prix. If Ikeda’s task facing a former title challenger seems tough, Wakamatsu must first get through arguably the best pound-for-pound flyweight MMA fighter the sport has seen since its inception, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Some may say it’s an impossible task, but that is why it is symbolic: JMMA was built around matchups that on paper looked one-sided, the chance for a surprise upset or comeback win ever present.
The level of the whole tournament is not only impressively high; we have never seen the likes. And, when the rest of the card is taken into account, the whole ONE Championship “A New Era” show is a world first, and along with fellow countryman, Tatsumitsu Wada, in the same tournament, Senzo Ikeda and Yuya Wakamatsu have gone from Pancrase to world stage.