With thousands of years of history, martial arts has always been a cornerstone of Chinese culture, and Bu Huo You Ga (4-2) wants to be a crucial part of the nation’s growing enthusiasm for it.
“In five years, I will be a beast,” the 24-year-old better known as “Youga” states. “In the near future, I expect to win the ONE [Strawweight] World Title. I believe I can do it.”
Bu, the ONE Hefei Flyweight Tournament Champion, will get a chance to take one step closer to his world title aspirations when he meets Rene “The Challenger” Catalan (2-2, 1 NC) at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS on Friday, 18 August. The show takes place at the Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
True to his roots, Bu’s growth as a warrior started at the age of 13. He worked his way up to a wrestling scholarship to Chongqing Yundong Tiyu Xueyuan, a sports academy more than 800 kilometers away from his village in the mountains of Liangshan, in the Sichuan province.
Despite the academy’s stellar coaching and equipment, the young athlete had a tough time at first. He was small – he still stands at only 162 centimeters now – and was often thrown all over the mat. Progress was slow, and eventually, his coach gave him an ultimatum: lift his game, or leave and go get a job.
“Ever since that lecture, I began to stay after training and work on my technique more, and my wrestling improved quickly. On rest days, I would lift weights on my own. I believed as long as I put in enough effort, then I would become a great wrestler.”
That hard work paid off. Seven years later, “Youga” won the China national championships for Greco-Roman Wrestling. Overcoming steep odds, however, was nothing new for him.
The youngest in a family of five and hailing from the Yi ethnic minority in China, Bu is very familiar with having to go without. Having meat at family meals, for example, was considered a rare luxury.
While his parents worked hard to support him and his siblings, Bu also contributed whenever he could, and got some part-time jobs so he would be less of a financial burden. It was a useful mindset to have, because before he became a professional martial artist, it was something he also had to do as a young father, working in hot pot restaurants to pay the bills.
“When I had a break from school,” he begins, “I would work odd jobs to make extra money, and I would use it to buy clothes and school supplies with.”
Also, he endured harassment from bigger kids. Due to his small stature, he was seen an easy target. But he solved that problem after watching a martial arts legend in action.
“I always stood up to bullies,” he says. “I even remember beating up a bully with nunchucks after being inspired by a Bruce Lee movie.”
Perhaps that is why the Chinese warrior fell in love with an increasing number of martial arts disciplines as he continued training, and turned his attention to professional competition. After all, wrestling provided him with a strong mindset and natural base to add more skills to his game.
Bu is fully aware of how much wrestling has given him, and he now pays it forward by coaching a middle school wrestling team, and does not hold back in dishing out tricks of the trade.
“My life focus is athletics,” Bu states. “Whether it is wrestling or martial arts, my family sees my athletic talent and supports whatever I choose to do. Their support is really my biggest source of motivation.”
In anticipation for the bout, he has spent the past two months training intensely in Harbin, located in the country’s northeast, to strengthen his striking and his submission skills. Not only does he promise to display an improvement in those areas, but he expects to finish his Filipino opponent with them.
“My opponent is a decent striker,” Bu acknowledges. “My plan is to control the distance with boxing. Once I get the takedown, I will drop relentless ground-and-pound until he submits from strikes.”
That is a huge statement to make against a former wushu world champion, but then again, Bu has spent a lifetime defying the odds.