One of Japan’s best young MMA prospects, 20-year-old Reo Yamaguchi spent the month of November in the United Kingdom training with the world-famous Team Kaobon in Liverpool. Team Kaobon is well established as one of the UK’s most accomplished producers of British MMA talent and is currently home to UFC contenders such as Darren Till, Mike Grundy and Tom Aspinall.
Yamaguchi is a Kyokushin Karate black-belt having entered the sport at age 5 and went on to be crowned Japan’s junior national champion. At age 16 he transitioned to MMA and after developing an impressive domestic record was selected by the Japanese MMA Federation at the age of 18 to represent his country’s national team on the international IMMAF platform. Fighting out of the Alive Academy in Nagoya-Shi under renowned coach Yoichi Suzuki, Yamaguchi made his debut on the world stage by winning the men’s bantamweight tournament at the 2018 IMMAF Oceania Open. As one of the most recognised young talents of the junior ranks, Yamaguchi remained consistent as a perennial top contender and has since won a trio of silver medals in the IMMAF junior bantamweight division, stepping onto the podium at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships, plus the 2019 European Open.
The IMMAF World Championships regularly welcomes over 50 national teams featuring the top amateur MMA prospects from each country. The extreme diversity between different nations and styles makes the competition one of MMA’s most challenging feats with up to five opponents in the space of a week, and so, following the 2019 World Championships Yamaguchi set a new goal of taking on experience and furthering his own skill set through overseas training.
Yamaguchi’s performances at the 2019 IMMAF Worlds caught the eye of Liverpool’s Team Kaobon, who reached out to the Japanese talent with an offer to join their ranks. “I got a message from the assistant of the Team Kaobon head coach, Colin Heron. I wanted to train at one of Europe’s top gyms to measure my level and I was also interested in living abroad and using English,” Yamaguchi explained. “Wrestling and mauy thai techniques all feel new to me and there is much to learn from their thinking and approach to training. I’m training with great fighters like Mike Grundy, teaching me wrestling.”
While Yamaguchi was able to absorb world class training and insight to add to his game, it was the Western approach to training, compared to that of Japan, through which he learned the most about himself as an athlete.
“In Japan, one practice is 3-4 hours of training,” he explained, “However, the training at Team Kaobon was a high-intensity training in a short time of 90 minutes to 2 hours. It was a shorter session in Liverpool, so I was able to do my best from warm-up to the end. However, in Japan, because of the long training, I was unknowingly lacking in concentration. It depends on the gym, but many Japanese people have a culture that values quantity. The idea is that it’s better to do it than not to do it. Even for long training I intend to go to the end with full power, but I unknowingly make an allocation that can withstand four hours of training, so it’s like running at about 60%. But in MMA, you have to do your best in a short round. So I felt how to train should be improved [after visiting Kaobon].”
While training and learning with some of UK MMA’s very best, Yamaguchi was alongside one England’s youngest up-and-coming names, Jack Grundy, son of UFC competitor and Kaobon wrestling coach, Mike Grundy. The 15-year-old was among the 250+ trailblazing athletes to compete at the first ever Youth MMA World Championships, hosted by IMMAF in August of 2019. With a series of impressive performances in the 12-man division and taking on rivals from as far as Russia and the USA, Grundy earned a bronze medal for England in the Youth B: -62kg/136lbs category.
“It was good to have him here, Grundy commented, who noted Yamaguchi’s work ethic and unorthodox striking. “Training with us he is a very skilled fighter and it was great to see him progress at Team Kaobon and start to use the techniques he learned under coach Colin Heron.”
Once international competition resumes in 2021, Yamaguchi is anticipated to make his return to action for Japan alongside amateur MMA’s elite global talent, when he will once again pursue the coveted gold medal at the IMMAF World Championships in Kazakhstan.