“Pretty Boy” Kwon Won Il has arguably made more of an impact in ONE Championship than any other mixed martial artist who has debuted in 2019.
The South Korean knockout artist, who will return at ONE: LEGENDARY QUEST, has stunned fans with two quickfire stoppages to emerge as a legitimate contender in the featherweight division.
Next Saturday, 15 June, the 23-year-old from Seoul will make his fourth appearance on the global stage in Shanghai, China against Koyomi “Moushigo” Matsushima. If Kwon can get his hand raised against this dangerous Japanese competitor, he will thrust himself into World Title contention.
“Pretty Boy” has not always seemed destined for stardom, however.
Ahead of his appearance at the Baoshan Arena in this high-stakes contest, find out how he discovered his passion for his sport, and became one the most talented rising stars in The Home Of Martial Arts.
This Friday, South Korean phenom Kwon Won Il looks to make it back-to-back knockouts against Japanese legend Mazakazu Imanari!Singapore | 22 February | 6:30PM | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Facebook: Prelims LIVE | Twitter: Prelims + 2 Main-Card bouts LIVE | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onegreatness19
Posted by ONE Championship on Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Kwon was born Daejeon, South Korea’s fifth-largest city, about 150 kilometers south of the capital of Seoul.
That is where his martial arts journey began when he joined his elementary school’s taekwondo team. He showed natural talent and advanced beyond provincial competitions to compete in the national youth tournament.
However, Kwon was far from a model student. He quit the sport when he graduated from elementary school at a time when he admits he lacked any direction.
“I had grown tired of taekwondo and was at a point in my life when I couldn’t get myself to study or train,” he adds.
Worse still, he got into fights with other students. Eventually, his high school principal had enough of his misbehavior, and ordered him to be transferred to another school.
Kwon says the turning point in his life was when he watched his mother cry in front of the principal after being told of his decision.
“It was the first time I ever saw her bow her head and cry,” he says.
“That was when I realized I had to do something to dry her tears. That’s when I began to do some serious soul-searching.”
New Home, New Passion
Kwon soon found himself in a new school in Hwajeong just north of the capital city of Seoul. In a new town among new friends, the teenager was inspired to make something of himself by his peers.
“I was determined to do something with my life,” Kwon says.
“That’s when I noticed that the students in my new school were very busy. I soon learned that they had dreams and goals. That motivated me to search for what I really want to do with my life.”
“Pretty Boy” found a mixed martial arts gym, Extreme Combat, and that rekindled his passion for training.
The chance to mix up disciplines in a sport that was growing faster than any other around the world filled him with enthusiasm, and he has not looked back since.
“In retrospect, taekwondo was just a hobby for me,” Kwon says.
“There is nothing wrong with taekwondo, but I felt there was limited room for me to grow. After I got a taste of mixed martial arts, I became hooked.
“It had the feel of taekwondo, but was also very new to me. When I thought there were no more mountains left to climb, I discovered new peaks.”
Making Ends Meet
He started training in mixed martial arts, but soon encountered another problem. Money.
“That was the most difficult obstacle. I wanted to continue training, but I needed to make money pay for it,” he adds.
“So, I started serving tables first at a snack stand, and then at a fried chicken joint,” Kwon says.
On weekdays, he took orders at a tteok-bokki (spicy, stir-fried rice cakes) establishment, before he spent his weekends at the other eatery.
That means he had to train at night, which made for long, exhausting days.
“I was really tired, both physically and mentally, when I got to the gym in the evenings after work,” he says.
“But I was determined to continue training no matter what. That was something I wasn’t going to compromise.”
His dedication paid off when he traveled to Japan to make his professional mixed martial arts debut aged 19 against Hirotaka Miyakawa – a man with 19 professional bouts. Kwon knocked him out in 36 seconds.
The Next Step
"Pretty Boy" Kwon Won Il stuns the home crowd with a BEAUTIFUL knockout of Filipino hero Eric Kelly at 0:19 of Round 1!Watch the full event on the ONE Super App http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast
Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, April 12, 2019
Although Kwon was successful at first, he struggled to be matched to compete. He won his first seven matches, but he was frustrated that it took him more than four and a half years to build that record.
Luckily, his talent was noticed by ONE Championship, and he has scored two first-round knockouts in his opening three contests inside the world’s largest martial arts organization so far.
His lightning-fast straight right neutralized Anthony “The Archangel” Engelen just 67 seconds into his promotional debut in January.
In April, Eric “The Natural” Kelly lasted just 19 seconds in the Circle with “Pretty Boy.”
Now, the Extreme Combat and Top Gym BF representative is gunning for his third victory on the global stage to take a step closer to his goal of winning the biggest prize in martial arts.
“For me, ONE Championship is a dream come true. I wanted to compete on the big stage, and there are many things I want to achieve here,” Kwon says.
“I want to return to Korea one day wearing the World Championship belt.”
Shanghai | 15 June | 5PM | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onequest19