From Japanese pop star to UFC punching machine: Syuri Kondo aiming to impress at Fight Night Japan
Syuri Kondo prepares for UFC debut at Saturday’s Fight Night Japan
Syuri Kondo has experienced life as an actress and a pop star. She’s been crowned a queen of professional wrestling and kick boxing and Japanese mixed martial arts. But on Saturday, the 28-year-old star steps on to the biggest stage there is in MMA as she sets her sights on becoming her country’s – and Asia’s – first Ultimate Fighting Champion.
“I wanted to be an actress in the beginning, but through my career in combat sports I want to be a star,” said Syuri, the name by which she is commonly known in Japan.
“I am strong hearted – and I am a striker.”
Watch: Japan’s Syuri Kondo in action against Minna Grusander of Finland
Syuri will fight on the undercard of UFC’s Fight Night Japan: Saint Preux v Okami promotion at the Saitama Super Arena.
She takes an MMA record of 5-0 collected over the past year as the “Queen” of the Japanese Pancrase circuit into the cage against South Korean Chan-Mi Jeon (5-1).
It’s the first step on a path she hopes will lead her all the way to current UFC world strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-0), the fighter who has dominated the division for the past two years and is known as Joanna Champion.
“I’m happy and excited at the same time,” said Syuri, speaking to the Post during the UFC’s media day at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. “The timing is great and the UFC and I have the same momentum. As I have become an MMA fighter, they have started looking for an Asian champion.”
It’s little wonder the UFC came calling after Syuri’s long – and lauded – history across both worlds of sports and entertainment.
Born in southern Kanagawa prefecture to a Japanese father and Filipina mother, Syuri dabbled in a modelling career on leaving school, and became an actor in a local theatre troupe before a long-time fascination with combat sports led her to a successful tryout for Japan’s professional wrestling circuit.
She would go on to become the Smash circuit’s Diva Champion, while fighting on the lucrative and often spectacular lucha libre circuit in Mexico. Growing fame led to a recording project with the female J-pop group Apple Tale while Syuri’s fighting pursuits moved on to kick boxing, and the Krush promotion’s world title.
She says MMA was a natural progression. “I’m very motivated,” said Syuri. “I’ve been a wrestling champion, and a champion at kick boxing and MMA. Everybody thinks I have accomplished a lot but I have to motivate myself to keep my strength. When I was looking for something to motivate me, I saw footage of the UFC and thought this is the ultimate. So this is my next step.”
And the UFC vice-president of the Asia Pacific region Kevin Chang comes right to the point when asked why the Las Vegas-backed group has chased the Japanese star.
“Finding the stars that resonate, that have names and records – and can compete – is vitally important to us and that’s a rare combination that Syuri has,” said Chang. “She attracts a lot of different kinds of media to interview her and that builds interest in the wider population as well which is what we want to do.”
Suryi will be presented with a close-up look at what, and who, lies ahead of her come Saturday, as the 10-fight UFC card also features among its highlights a strawweight clash between Brazilian title contenders Claudia Gadelha (15-2) and Jessica Andrade (16-6) – both fighters have tried, and failed, in the past to wrest the world title from Jedrzejczyk.
“I will be watching,” said Suryi. “This is just the beginning for me because my ultimate goal is to be a champion.”