How Former ONE World Champion Ok Rae Yoon Battled Through Doubt And Difficulty To Reach The Pinnacle Of MMA

Ok Rae Yoon Lowen Tynanes ONE Fight Night 10 66

Former ONE Lightweight MMA World Champion Ok Rae Yoon has defeated some of the sport’s biggest names, but for many fans, the soft-spoken South Korean has flown under the radar.

The 33-year-old will return to action in U.S. primetime on July 5 at ONE Fight Night 23 on Prime Video when he faces undefeated Turkish phenom Alibeg Rasulov in a matchup that could determine the division’s next World Title challenger.

Before the action gets underway at Bangkok’s iconic Lumpinee Boxing Stadium next month, we take a closer look at Ok and his journey to the top of the mixed martial arts world.

‘I Loved Sports’

Born and raised in Busan, South Korea, Ok can’t remember a time when he didn’t enjoy physical activity.

Whether it be soccer, taekwondo, track and field, or just running around with friends, he has always been a high-energy, active individual.

He told onefc.com:

“I loved sports. I never felt any interest or passion for anything other than things that made my heart beat fast through exercise.”

Although Ok was drawn to the playing field more than the classroom, South Korean culture places a strong emphasis on studies and academics.

To that end, the youngster worked hard to earn his spot in a high-performing high school and then at university.

It was at college that he also began studying sports seriously. While most of his classmates would use their degrees to work as personal trainers or exercise scientists, Ok was more interested in the practical application of his knowledge – how to improve his own sports performance:

“I never was too interested in hitting the gym for my exercises. I always preferred other sports. Of course, now I hit the weights more to enhance my abilities and conditioning for MMA performance.

“But when I was younger, I never felt the desire to hit the gym. Instead, I wondered whether there were new sports I could get into.”

Falling In Love With MMA

Ok competed extensively in taekwondo throughout high school and into his first year of university, showing plenty of promise and prodigious athletic abilities.

However, it wasn’t until he performed his mandatory military service that he found his passion for the all-around sport of mixed martial arts.

He recalled:

“I enlisted into the army after my first year of university. Since it was an environment where there were young men only, in our free time we would watch MMA fights online and on TV frequently. I fell in love with the sport from there.”

Initially, Ok only trained MMA for fun. Already 23 years old, he thought his opportunity to become a professional fighter had passed.

But before long, his natural talent for combat sports became evident, and he chose to try his hand at competitive fighting:

“At that age, becoming a professional athlete seemed way too late. I really believed becoming a professional athlete was not an option for me. So I committed to my MMA training as a hobby while studying in school. I would train at night after classes.

“After about four or five months of training, maybe because I was generally quite athletic and picking up the skills quite fast, I wanted to try competing.”

Despite his raw athleticism, Ok’s first fight didn’t go as planned.

But rather than deciding it wasn’t for him and quietly hanging up the 4-ounce gloves, the South Korean instead used that defeat to motivate himself – putting him on a path toward greatness at the highest levels of the sport:

“I went for my first amateur fight and lost quite quickly from an armbar. I knew that I had lost not because I was a poor athlete, but because I was not skilled enough.

“I really wanted to win in an amateur fight, so I trained extremely hard for my second fight. Because of this, I competed again, and again.”

‘Some Dark Times’

A few months after suffering that defeat in his first amateur fight, Ok returned to action and reeled off four straight wins to establish himself as one of South Korea’s most promising rising stars.

In 2014, he turned pro and hasn’t looked back since, compiling an impressive 13-3 record before joining the world’s largest martial arts organization in 2021.

Ok’s rise through the ranks wasn’t without serious challenges, though. Money was always tight, and a hand injury nearly forced him to retire:

“Even after you turn professional, you don’t earn that much money in your first few fights, not enough to make a living. I had to take on other jobs on the side to make ends meet.

“There was this one time when I was competing in China. I broke my hand during the fight and had to undergo surgery. It took me many months to recover after the surgery. During that time, I couldn’t do anything: I couldn’t train and I couldn’t work to earn money. The financial stress and uncertainty for the future then was very bad. They were some dark times.”

Proving The Critics Wrong

Ok ultimately persevered through those difficult moments and went on to cement himself as one of the best lightweights in all of MMA.

In fact, the South Korean’s initial rise through ONE was nothing short of meteoric.

He debuted with a surprising victory over former ONE Featherweight MMA World Champion Marat Gafurov. One week later, he scored a shocking decision win over beloved MMA icon Eddie Alvarez – a victory that would earn him a shot at gold.

Then in September 2021, Ok picked up the biggest win of his career when he upset Singaporean-American superstar Christian Lee to capture the ONE Lightweight MMA World Title.

Ok would lose a World Title rematch to Lee, but he’s since bounced back to the win column while putting himself in a position to earn a rubber match with the titleholder.

Well aware that his critics have often doubted his world-class skills, the lightweight contender is looking forward to proving them wrong once again at ONE Fight Night 23.

Ok added:

“I’ve been an underdog for most of my career at ONE Championship. I’ve faced top competition, and every time, I’ve proved people wrong. I will be fighting an elite competitor once again, and as always, I want to surprise people and exceed expectations.

“People can make predictions, but I will continue to win. I ask the ONE fans for their love and support as I do this. I will make it back to the title.”

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