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Some people just have “it.” How do you define “it?” It’s hard to, but “it” is the kind of thing you know when you see “it.”
Japanese-South Korean superstar Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama has “it” in spades.
Whether he is making his mark as a K-1 HERO Light Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament Champion in kickboxing, displaying world-class judoka skills, competing at the highest level of mixed martial arts, or establishing himself as a reality TV star in Korea, Akiyama has a presence.
Through his many years as a professional on several public stages, Akiyama has learned how to best balance his responsibilities and passions.
The 44-year-old is currently signed to ONE Championship, and while he is likely in the twilight of his mixed martial arts and combat sports career, he has grown into a consummate professional in all aspects.
Akiyama, who is Japanese, made quite a name for himself on Korean television. He was introduced to Korean fans via the variety show “The Return of Superman” where he and his daughter starred.
To Korean fans, he is known as Choo Sung Hoon. His star level in Korea has made him a significant draw in Seoul when he has competed as a mixed martial artist. Many of them learned of his long mixed martial arts career, which dates back to 2004 when he submitted former boxer, Francois Botha, only after seeing him on the show.
To say there is a contrast between the character, the athlete in the circle, and the man is an understatement, but still, there is a commonality, and it’s that charisma he possesses. Fans in every industry he participates are drawn to him, and that’s the case if he is being a loving father and husband or a highly-skilled fighter.
Akiyama’s combat style has changed over the years. He used to be a wilder, less-disciplined competitor, but having a daughter helped to change that approach. He now puts in as much preparation as possible to ensure he can compete safely.
“My daughter cried when she saw me [come home with bruises from a match] because she was sad,” Akiyama said. “That was the moment I set my mind to work harder every day as a fighter to make sure I don’t hurt my family or my daughter’s feelings.”
Fans who know him from “Return of Superman” notice the differences.
“In the past, he seemed immature, had less fighting techniques, and was less entertaining. Now he fights with a lot of experience and determination,” said a fan named Chang Bae Ji. “Choo gives off a professional vibe everywhere he goes now, when he fights, and when he is on TV.”
While a gentler side of Akiyama was on display as a reality TV star, he has to call on a different part of his personality to compete.
“When I’m inside the [Circle], I turn serious, it’s not a game,” said Akiyama. “But outside the ring, I’m the opposite. I’m outgoing and lively,” he added.
Fans recognize his attitude from the show, and if they didn’t know about the 14-7 record as a mixed martial artist with seven wins by KO and five more by submission, they may never know he could go to that place as a competitor.
With maturity has come an ability to manage time and circumstances properly. Akiyama understands the vitality in competing as a combat sports athlete, and he also has a grasp on the importance of family and being available to them on several levels.
In many ways, you can say the different experiences have made him better in all aspects. Does Akiyama have more acting in his future? It is very possible, and it could happen in a variety of countries across the world. His entire family gained fame in Korea from Return of Superman, and it would seem, it could be easily parlayed into similar opportunities.
He may not be done competing in martial arts either. His last match was a unanimous-decision loss to rising star Agilan Thani in June, but Akiyama proved he can still compete as he held his own over three rounds.
Over his career, he has competed with some of the top names in his profession, and that includes Chris Leben, Jake Shields, Michael Bisping, Vitor Belfort, Alan Belcher, Kazushi Sakuraba, Melvin Manhoef, and others.
At this age, Akiyama is still impacting the world of combat sports, specifically judo and MMA. He opened his own school for the martial arts in Japan in 2009. It is called the Akiyama Dojo, and it is yet another example of his maturation and capitalization on his popularity and influence. No matter what happens in his combat sports career moving forward, he has made a mark.
The same can be said for him as it pertains to his career as an actor and TV personality. Akiyama leaves an impression wherever he goes.