Many of ONE Championship’s warriors have unbelievable tales of overcoming adversity.
In fact, many of these tales seem more like Hollywood storylines than real life. However, they are indeed authentic, and show just how powerful martial arts can be in changing people’s lives for the better.
Here are five of our most inspiring heroes, who have defied incredible odds to find enormous success.
As a young child, ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes was forced to fend for himself and his family.
Fernandes grew up in a poverty-stricken area in Manaus, Brazil, and his mother died when he was only 7 years old. His father then pushed young Bibiano and his siblings deep into the Amazon rainforest, where they lived with his aunt and cousins. “The Flash” had to hunt and forage to survive, and even contracted malaria, nearly succumbing to the deadly disease.
Soon, he returned to live with his father, and helped to support him by doing some part-time work, including washing cars and selling popsicles. Eventually, he met an instructor at a local Brazilian jiu-jitsu school, and desperately wanted to learn.
The only problem was he could not afford the lessons. However, the instructor was sensitive to Fernandes’ situation, and offered to teach him for free in exchange for cleaning the gym.
That deal would later pay dividends, as “The Flash” became one of the most decorated grapplers in martial arts history. After receiving his black belt in 2002, he became a five-time IBJJF World Champion in the black belt division, and also won the Pan American Championship three years in a row.
Fernandes successfully transitioned those skills into the cage in 2004, where he has since amassed an incredible 22-3 professional record.
He has become an icon in Asia, as he claimed the DREAM Featherweight Championship in 2009, the DREAM Bantamweight Championship in 2011, and then the undisputed ONE Bantamweight World Championship in October 2013.
Now living in Canada with his wife and three kids, Fernandes has ensured that his own family will never go through the pain and tragedy he experienced as a child in Brazil.
Former ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang survived bitter heartbreak and several personal tragedies in order to achieve greatness.
Growing up in Baguio City, Folayang was one of nine children, five of whom passed away due to sickness because the family did not have access to proper medical care. His parents were both illiterate, and worked multiple jobs in order to put food on the table. However, they made sure their children would have the chances they never had, and borrowed money just to pay their children’s way through school.
Fortunately, “Landslide” found a way out in martial arts. He picked up wushu, proved to be a prodigious talent, and earned a scholarship to the University Of The Cordilleras, where he competed on the school’s wushu squad.
Coincidentally, this is where he would meet future Team Lakay head coach and lifelong friend, Mark Sangiao. He would make the Philippine national wushu team, and racked up 11 major medals, including three golds at the SEA Games.
The Filipino warrior’s destiny, however, lay inside the cage. In 2007, he won a national championship in his professional debut. Although he subsequently experienced a couple of setbacks, those failures ultimately made him better as a martial artist.
In November 2016, five years after headlining ONE’s inaugural show in Singapore, he returned to the Lion City to face ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki, who was considered to be Asia’s best martial artist of the modern era.
Folayang was able to survive the submission specialist’s grappling attack, and even turned things around with a third-round TKO to capture the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
Now, he is one of the greatest success stories in Philippine history, and never has to worry about living in poverty again.
Singtongnoi Por Telakun epitomizes the word “survivor.”
As the oldest of three siblings, he grew up in the rural Thai province of Nakhon Ratchasima, and was raised in extreme poverty. His mother and father worked on a local farm, and they barely made enough to put food on the table.
That motivated Singtongnoi to help his family in any way possible — he assisted his parents with odd jobs, harvested rice, and took care of his two younger brothers.
Also, that spurred him to try out Muay Thai at the age of 10, as he saw it as a way to pull his family out of poverty.
Singtongnoi excelled in the sport, and progressed at a rapid pace to forge a fruitful career for himself. He later captured a Lumpinee Stadium World Championship, a WMC Muay Thai World Championship, and a Rajadamnern Stadium Fighter Of The Year Award.
In 2015, after the Thai broke his ribs in a match, he retired from competition. He returned to his old life, where he sold goat’s milk at for little money at local festivals. Unfortunately, that paid very little, and he found himself back in poverty.
All that would change when Singtongnoi was given an opportunity to teach alongside the many other Muay Thai World Champions at Evolve MMA in Singapore. He quickly pulled himself out of debt, was able to support his family once again, and enjoyed a pleasant life in the Southeast Asian country.
However, in August 2016, his world came crashing down to new lows, when he was diagnosed with cancer. A two-centimeter long tumor was found in his nasal cavity.
Singtongnoi, with the help of his peers, was motivated to overcome his condition. He went through 36 sessions of radiation therapy, and scored the greatest win of his life when he beat the cancer.
Then, in May 2018, he completed his remarkable comeback by defeating Joseph Lasiri in a ONE Super Series bout.
Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes almost never had a chance to become the ONE Flyweight World Champion.
Sometime in April 1988, just a few days after being born, Moraes was abandoned by his birth mother on the rough streets of Brasilia, Brazil. He was discovered and placed in an orphanage with other children from similar circumstances, but fortunately, he was adopted by a lovely lady named Mirtes Moraes three years later.
Mirtes was an active parent, who enrolled her spirited child in various activities including capoeira, judo, and swimming. Nonetheless, the streets still had a hold on young Adriano. He would fall into bad company in his teenage years, getting involved with youth gangs and brawling in public. After one such brawl, his friends suggested he try his hand at Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
It was a decision that would change his life forever.
Moraes left the streets for the dojo, trained with the world-famous Constrictor Team, remained dedicated to his craft, and embraced a positive and compassionate attitude. That led to multiple titles, including the 2014 NAGA No-Gi Pro Division Championship.
The submission wizard was hooked on martial arts, and his talent eventually led him to the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Championship in September 2014. Despite losing it to Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov via split decision nearly a year later, he remained focused on his goal of reclaiming the belt.
Moraes relocated to Florida to train with American Top Team, won two matches on the way to the interim crown in August 2016, and then defeated Akhmetov via unanimous decision in their rematch to become the undisputed champion once again.
Although he recently lost the belt to Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio via split decision, “Mikinho” is without a doubt one of the best flyweights on the planet, and his tale of triumph will inspire for years to come.
Malaysia’s Agilan “Alligator” Thani has always been a gentle spirit, but everywhere he turned while growing up, there was a different obstacle.
Raised in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with a single father and three members of his extended family, Thani braved the walk to school every day through the crime-ridden Kuala Lumpur neighborhood of Sentul.
Sadly, Thani was bullied daily, beaten up constantly, and was emotionally tormented on a daily basis because of his ethnicity and weight. Having turned to junk food for comfort, at one point, Thani weighed an astonishing 140 kilograms.
The young Malaysian felt alone. He could not even talk to his biggest inspiration, his father, about the bullying, as he was once told off for being unable to take care of his problems.
Soon, he found a way out.
After experimenting briefly with karate, his passion for martial arts was ignited upon watching the Donnie Yen film “SPL: Sha Po Lang” at age 16. That led him to Monarchy MMA, where he became hooked on Brazilian jiu-jitsu and other disciplines. Slowly, but surely, the weight slid off, and as he improved as a martial artist, the bullying decreased.
By then, Thani had more than enough skill to defend himself, but instead used his newfound ability to reinvent himself into a martial artist with dreams of winning a world title.
He went on to become the MIMMA Welterweight Champion in 2014, and then turned professional, eventually racking up seven wins in two years en route to challenging Ben Askren for the ONE Welterweight World Champion in May 2017.
Despite falling short in his quest for the gold, he has since become a role model for Malaysian youth and the country’s Indian community. His unbreakable spirit is still alive and kicking, as he renews his title campaign with added vigor.