Martial artists often talk about their “brothers.”
The mutual sacrifices, the shared goals, and the emotions felt through wins and losses often make for ties that are sometimes stronger than even those of blood.
The two share not only dreams of attaining ONE World Title gold, but also a nationality and the experience of upheaval. Both men left China as teenagers to pursue success in a foreign country.
This is why Han, who moved on his own to Thailand at just 14 years old with a one-way plane ticket and little more than Muay Thai dreams and loose change, is especially excited by the prospect of competing on the same card as Zhang back on home soil.
“I am very lucky. I get to go to China with Zhang, my little brother,” he says of the man who, at 21, is two years his junior, but already a veteran of 60 kickboxing and Muay Thai bouts.
“To fight along with him in ONE Championship will be a very good experience. We’ve known each other for a long time, but we rarely fight at an event together.”
The last time Han and Zhang – who moved to Thailand aged 17 – appeared at the same event, it was on opposite sides of the ropes.
Han cornered his “little brother,” who was looking for some redemption.
At ONE: WARRIORS OF LIGHT in May, Zhang took on Cyprus’ Panicos Yusuf, who had spoiled his older friend’s promotional debut by outpointing him at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS just 10 months earlier.
“When Zhang came to Bangkok the last time, he fought with the opponent I had the first time [in ONE],” Han recalls.
“Originally, I wanted to fight Yusuf again because I had lost to him. But this time, it was my little brother fighting him. I knew Yusuf’s strengths and weaknesses. I felt, with his ability, Zhang could win without a problem.”
Zhang earned the victory, but it was hardly without a problem. Yusuf comfortably won the first two stanzas of their three-round kickboxing contest, leaving “Muay Thai Boy” with a mountain to climb.
Even though his “little brother” was down on the judges’ scorecards, Han had faith in him.
“Before the fight, I told Zhang, ‘Don’t rush, don’t get anxious,’” the 23-year-old Chinese star explains. “’His legs are quick, but if you can catch the rhythm and make the right adjustments, you can knock him out. Believe me.’”
However, belief was ebbing after the Cypriot’s blend of aggression and accuracy had seemingly put him in firm control.
“After round one, Han said to me, ‘Gee, this guy must have worked on his boxing. He was not this good when he fought me,’” Zhang remembers.
“In round two, I thought to myself, ‘If you want to box, I’ll play along,’ but then he changed from boxing to kicking. Up to the end of round two, I’d made no effective moves.”
As the clock wound down, Han was almost at a loss for words. The Mad Muay Thai Gym representative wasn’t sure what to tell his friend, but he mustered up an encouraging message that spurred his pal to victory.
“Han said, ‘Just get in there and fight him. If you can’t knock him down, I’ll join you,’” Zhang says with a chuckle.
Although “Muay Thai Boy” recalls that memory with laughter, he was all business when the final round started.
Zhang pounced on Yusuf and dropped the Cypriot twice in that three-minute period. His late surge was rewarded with a unanimous decision.
“Wow, that shot was beautiful,” says Han of the right hand that caused the first knockdown. “I was stunned. It was very emotional.”
When his chips are down, Chinese World Champion Zhang Chenglong digs deep to come out on top.: Shanghai | 15 June | 5PM | ONE: LEGENDARY QUEST: Get your tickets at http://bit.ly/onequest19: Check local listings for global TV broadcast: Watch on the ONE Super App http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp : Prelims LIVE on Facebook | Prelims + 2 Main-Card bouts LIVE on Twitter
Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, 31 May 2019
Zhang, who represents Shengli Fight Club, avenged his “big brother” and credited his success to their unbreakable bond.
“Han is always there for me, unlike some who only favor you when you win,” he says. “Brothers are different. We’ve always got each other’s back, whether we win or lose.”
The duo, who are coincidentally both Top King Muay Thai World Champions, will have each other’s back at the Baoshan Arena when they compete on the same card for the first time in two years.
Han (60-16) will meet Scotland’s Andrew Miller (34-16-2) in a ONE Super Series Muay Thai bantamweight contest and Zhang (47-12-1) will face Australia’s Tyler Hardcastle (24-9) in a ONE Super Series kickboxing match-up in the same division.
For “Muay Thai Boy,” family remains his motivation – not just his brother in combat, Han, but also his parents.
“By winning the gold in ONE Championship, I can show the world the rising power of martial artists from China,” he says.
“And if I win the belt, I can go back home [to Shenzhen] to buy a house for mom and dad so they can stop working so hard.”
Shanghai | 15 June | 4:45PM | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onequest19