Ken Hasegawa is well traveled both in terms of distance and weight classes. The Japanese fighter has competed in various divisions from welterweight up to megaton, and fought in both the United States and China.
The 31-year-old finally seems to have found a home in the middleweight division and, this Friday (local time), he will challenge champion Aung La Nsang at ONE: Spirit of a Warrior. He’s had big fights with Deep, Titan FC, and Rizin FF, but Hasegawa believes winning this title would be his greatest achievement.
“It will be my toughest match ever, and he will be the strongest opponent I have ever had,” he said.
La Nsang is a huge fan favorite in his native Myanmar. He is guaranteed to receive raucous support from the crowd. The majority of Hasegawa’s fights have been in his native Japan, but he is relishing the prospect of taking on one of Yangon’s favorite sons.
“I really like the idea of facing a national hero in his home country. It is going to be one of the biggest challenges of my life,” he said.
Hasegawa was the Deep megaton champion for nearly two years. In that division, there was literally no weight limit and he was walking around at approximately 230 pounds. In search of overseas opportunities, the 31-year-old decided to make a dramatic transformation.
“To compete abroad, I whittled down to light heavyweight, middleweight, and even to welterweight,” he said.
However, Hasegawa ultimately decided that dropping down to welterweight was a division too far.
“Going to welterweight did not suit me, so I went back to middleweight,” he said.
This will be Hasegawa’s ONE Championship debut, but he has already familiarized himself with the top contenders in the division. His opponent has won seven fights out of eight for the promotion, capturing two titles in the process, but the challenger believes his mental strength will make the difference in this match.
“I am not like the opponents Aung La Nsang has had before, who gradually get hurt and slow down. I get stronger after I get hurt, and I can still move forward aggressively after I get tired. That is how I am different from his former opponents. My mind is strong.”
Hasegawa is a third degree Judo black belt, but feels his versatility is his greatest strength.
“I love martial arts, I enjoy the process of learning and evolving. I consider myself both a grappler and a striker. I am well rounded. I can compete in any situation. I always go for the finish.”
He has only ever lost two fights and brings an outstanding 16-2-1 record into this matchup. There were extenuating circumstances behind the most recent defeat, as Hasegawa suffered a serious, career-threatening injury.
“I suffered a herniated cervical disc; I wasn’t able to move my hands. The injury was so bad that I felt like I couldn’t lift anything.”
The path to recovery was a long way and Hasegawa admits he wondered whether his career was over.
“I couldn’t live a normal life. I couldn’t do martial arts. I hit rock bottom and didn’t even want to see anybody, but luckily I have many good people around me (and) they helped me overcome it.”
He demonstrated that his recovery was complete with a victory in February, the tenth time in Hasegawa’s career he has won with a first-round submission. Next on the agenda is a ONE Championship debut against La Nsang and the Japanese middleweight knows exactly what his ambitions are.
“My goal is to win this upcoming bout and become the ONE middleweight world champion.”