“Mini T” Danial Williams is diving straight into the deep end at ONE Championship.
The 27-year-old Kao Sok Muay Thai representative will face ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon on the massive “ONE on TNT I” main card, which airs live on U.S. prime-time television this Wednesday, 7 April.
Though he might be new to fans of ONE Super Series, Williams is not new to combat sports – and he has “the art of eight limbs” running through his veins.
From childhood to World Championship success, we recap the impressive journey that brought Williams to Wednesday’s battle on the global stage.
Never Quite Fitting In
Although “Mini T” has been a Perth resident for as long as he can remember, he was actually born to a Thai mother and Australian father in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand.
“My mom’s from Thailand and I was born there with an Australian father. When I was 8 months old, they came to Australia to live here for a better life,” Williams says.
“My dad was originally from Perth. He was a country kid. He went to travel in Thailand and he met my mom. They came to Australia, had my brother, and then when my brother was born, they moved to Thailand. They lived there for four years, had me, and came back to Australia.”
Williams was a shy child whose mixed heritage always made him feel like a bit of an outcast. He wasn’t like his school friends in Australia, or like his family in Thailand, and he struggled to find his place.
“I always just felt a little bit different than my peers,” he says.
“I didn’t really embrace my Asian side. I was always kind of embarrassed by it. I wanted to be this white Australian kid like everyone else.
“When we’d go to Thailand for holidays, I’d get stared at a lot because me and my brother were a little bit different, like the [mixed race] look. I hated that as well. I guess that led me to be a little bit reserved in myself.”
However, the youngster did have a loving family who gave him the things he needed in life and instilled a work ethic that he’s carried to this day.
That work ethic came from his father, who was often away from the family for long stints in order to provide for them, and from his mother, who looked after the brothers and volunteered in local community projects before going back to work when the children were both in school.
“I’m very lucky to have parents who were such hard workers. They came from nothing,” Williams says.
“My dad was from a mining family and he would work away for weeks, and then my mom would have to raise us by herself in a foreign country. So, my work ethic definitely comes from them.
“[My mom] did a lot of volunteer work and that helped with her language and experience. Then she got her first job in a tomato factory when we were both in school. She’s a workhorse as well.”
Muay Thai Roots
Another thing the young Williams inherited from his mother was her family’s martial arts tradition. His great-grandfather was a Muay Thai competitor, and his uncle was a Northern Thailand Champion in “the art of eight limbs.”
Though it was his older brother Hayden’s penchant for martial arts movies that first got him involved, “Mini T” always felt the pull of Muay Thai deep inside of him.
“[My brother] was the first one to get into martial arts at a very young age. As a kid, he would always be running around in his karate uniform. He loved Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme. I just wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Williams says.
“But my mom’s brother is a Muay Thai Champion. My mom grew up around Muay Thai because he used to train people at the house, so I just feel like it’s always been in my blood. My great-granddad was a Muay Thai kickboxer as well.
“I started at a taekwondo school when I was 7, but I’ve always wanted to do Muay Thai. I looked up to my uncle in that way. I always wanted to impress him.”
The Perth native initially bounced from taekwondo to ninjutsu, but both of those disciplines did nothing for him. Full-contact kickboxing was a step closer, but he knew he’d found his home when he stepped through the doors of a Muay Thai gym at the age of 10.
“It was advertised locally,” Williams recalls. “Me and my brother always wanted to do Muay Thai, so we thought, ‘Let’s 100 percent do it.’ And we kept it up ever since.”
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The Highs And Lows Of Combat
Williams beamed inside when he returned to Thailand and showed his uncle what he’d been learning. At the same time, he was offered advice from the source on how to progress in the sport.
“Mini T” then competed in his first professional bout at 16 and was hugely successful domestically. In 2015, he enjoyed a breakout year by winning the WMC Muay Thai World Title, defeating Bangkok stadium veteran Thanit Khomsai for the gold.
But with success came overconfidence, which led to his harshest lesson in the ring.
“I’d just won the WMC World Title and I went on a two-month European backpacking holiday, feeling on top of the world,” Williams says.
“I knew I had this opportunity to fight in Japan in an eliminator for the K-1 World Title, but I was in party mode. Basically, I had three weeks to prepare with a belly full of alcohol, and then I just paid the price.
“I thought I was literally invincible. The ego got the better of me, and he knocked me out in round one.”
While “Mini T” paid the price for his lack of focus and commitment, he’s now determined to never make that same mistake again.
“That was great character building for me,” he says. “But it was really hard, going from being on top of the world — winning, winning, winning, and getting all these opportunities — then having that loss, and thinking, ‘Do I really want to do this?’
“I was just thinking I would go to school and do what my mom always wanted me to do, but fighting was such a big part of my life. Eventually, I went back to the gym and it just built from there. I realized that was a big lesson to learn, and I was still young, so I could turn it around. And here we are.”
Reaching The Global Stage
Years after his journey began, Williams is heading into the biggest bout of his career, on the biggest martial arts platform in the world, against arguably the best active Muay Thai fighter on the planet.
There was a day when he had wondered whether it was all worth it, but the burning desire that’s written into his DNA brought him back to the ring.
And while the surging Rodtang – who is 9-0 in ONE Super Series and reigns as the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion – will come into this 61.5-kilogram catch weight encounter with all the fanfare, “Mini T” has nothing to lose and everything to gain on 7 April.
“It’s absolutely huge, but I guess it just hasn’t hit me yet,” the Australian says.
“I’m just going to keep my head down and focus on my training. I’m not going to buy into the whole thing and get overwhelmed about how crazy big [this fight] is. I’m just focusing on Rodtang. It’s just going to be me and him in the cage at the end of the day, anyway. He’s only human.”
It won’t be easy, but Williams will leave it all on the line in search of a victory that could change his life.
“Winning this would change lots of things,” he adds. “But ultimately, just giving back to everyone who has helped me out and supported me throughout my martial arts journey, especially my mom and dad, would be the biggest thing.”