China’s Han Zi Hao has had breakout success so far in ONE Super Series, and he has earned his place opposite Nong-O Gaiyanghadao for the inaugural ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai World Title on 16 February.
It has been a remarkable rise for the 23-year-old from China to the main event of ONE: CLASH OF LEGENDS.
He has emerged from the humble beginnings he experienced when he left his homeland behind to pursue a Muay Thai career in Bangkok, Thailand.
Han Zi Hao's power CANNOT be denied!Bangkok | 16 February | 7:00PM | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onelegends19
Posted by ONE Championship on Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Han started his journey in a martial arts school learning sanda at the age of 12. His aptitude for the striking art opened a new door and the chance to pursue Muay Thai with the Chinese national team, though it meant leaving his hometown behind at the age of 14.
“[My dad] asked me, ‘Son, do you want to go? It could be very hard and far away from home,'” Han says, but he had no doubts.
“I was really young at that time and, like most kids of that age, I couldn’t wait to leave home.”
He grasped the opportunity, and moved 1500 miles from Xiang Cheng City in Henan, to Zhuhai in Guangdong.
The talented teen took seamlessly to the change of codes, and his coaches were immediately impressed. Within a year he was offered another big opportunity, only this time it was overseas.
Aged 15, Han and two of his teammates from the national Muay Thai team, Chubby and Ji Guangjian, received sponsorships to go and train in the home of the art of eight limbs, but they had no idea what to expect.
“I took pride in the opportunity. Most people didn’t have such privilege,” the ONE World Title challenger explains.
“I didn’t think much about adapting to a new environment or the possible challenges, just better training in the new place.”
Han and his friends were given flight tickets by Martial Arts Development (MAD) and the promise of training and accommodation when they arrived in Bangkok and sent on their first excursion outside of their home nation.
However, their naivety soon caught up with them. They landed in The Land Of Smiles not knowing a word of the native language or the local culture, and the conditions were not ideal.
“I realized soon that life in a foreign country was not as simple as I had imagined,” says Han.
“When I trained, it was okay because my mind was occupied. However, after the training, I was alone, lying on the floor with no bed, only a piece of carpet that fit one person.”
The Top King Muay Thai World Champion soon felt homesick, but he did not want to worry his parents, who were reluctant for him to make the trip in the first place.
“After the first week or so in Thailand, I began to miss home. I felt so far away from home in this new country,” he recalls.
“Sometimes, I cried hiding under the blanket. [When I called home] I told my parents that I was doing fine in Thailand and they shouldn’t worry. But right after hanging up the phone, I felt so sad and couldn’t help crying.
“I had a determination that I would not go home no matter how hard it was, and I would hide the thought of going home even if I wanted to.”
It was difficult at first, but after seeing out the rough first few weeks, Han became more familiar with his surroundings, and day-to-day life gradually became easier.
The Thais who were training at the gym began to show the Chinese youngsters around and helped them to find their feet. Slowly, they picked up the language and could communicate enough to navigate through life in the city.
Still, they were outsiders, and they were often reminded of this in the gym’s dormitories.
After a stellar 2018, Han Zi Hao gets his shot at ONE Super Series gold on 16 February!Bangkok | 16 February | 7:00PM | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onelegends19
Posted by ONE Championship on Wednesday, January 16, 2019
“To be frank, we were bullied sometimes,” Han reveals.
“After all, we were kids struggling in a foreign country. The other guys had more confidence because that was their territory.”
They were made to do the extra chores their local teammates did not want to do, but the gym owner, who had always treated the visitors well, eventually stepped in.
It did not happen overnight, but Han grew in skill and confidence and became part of the fabric of the gym, which allowed him to have success in the ring.
“I started to fight after a month’s training or so in Thailand. One match every month, at least. Sometimes two matches in one month,” he says.
“My win rate was high at that time because I had fought five or six matches and never lost. Although I had zero experience with Muay Thai matches before, after the first victory, I won four or five bouts in a row.
“I was excited and had high hopes.”
Life was still not easy. Han describes the 300 Baht (about USD$10) purses as “pathetically meager,” and he struggled to keep the hunger pangs from his growing body with such little money.
Sometimes, he was so famished he would search for loose change on the streets of Bangkok so he could buy food.
However, he sacrificed short-term comfort for long-term success and stayed dedicated at the gym to build up his skills, become successful, and make his parents proud.
“My first coach used to tell me, ‘Young children rely on their parents to gain respect. Once grown up, they should honor their parents.’
“This is the reason that keeps me going all these years. I want to honor my hometown and my country with this profession, and I want to grow stronger so that I can provide a better life for my family.”
On 16 February, World Champions Nong-O Gaiyanghadao and Han Zi Hao will lock horns for the ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai World Title!Bangkok | 16 February | 7:00PM | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onelegends19
Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, January 25, 2019
Han endured the hardships of hunger and loneliness with this quest in mind.
Fortunately, a lot has changed since his hard times on hard floors. He has made his way through the regional circuit to end up in the world’s largest martial arts organization. On 16 February, Han will take center stage in his adopted hometown’s Impact Arena as the main event star.
Every day he spent hungry would be justified if he can hold the World Title aloft by defeating Nong-O on at ONE: CLASH OF LEGENDS.