‘I Chose To Do Something I Love’ – Heavyweight Sensation Kang Ji Won’s Hard Road To MMA Success
“Mighty Warrior” Kang Ji Won would be lost without mixed martial arts.
The South Korean knockout artist – who returns against unbeaten newcomer Ben Tynan at ONE Fight Night 16: Haggerty vs. Andrade on Prime Video – never had much passion for anything else, only aspiring to become a professional athlete.
The 28-year-old is now living his dream as he prepares to compete in his fifth ONE Championship bout in U.S. primetime on Friday, November 3, but the road hasn’t always been easy.
Ahead of his next match at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, find out how Kang navigated the hardships involved in chasing his goals to become a rising star in the heavyweight MMA division
‘Academics Weren’t For Me’
There was nothing remarkable about Kang’s upbringing that would mark him out as a world-class athlete in the years to come.
Growing up on Geoje Island off the southern coast of South Korea, “Mighty Warrior” was just a regular kid whose size kept him out of trouble.
He told onefc.com:
“I had a normal childhood. I was always a big kid, and I’ve never been one to pick fights with people, so I pretty much had a quiet childhood.”
Kang was not an avid student and preferred to be outside with his friends, and it was only sport that gave him any real motivation.
The more he trained, the more he felt an affinity for athletics – and that eventually pushed him toward his future career.
“Mighty Warrior” explained:
“I never really liked studying in school. Academics weren’t for me. I liked to be outside playing and running around, which is why I got into our sport. I started to exercise in high school to lose weight.
“I liked going to internet cafes to play games, but I think exercise and working out was a good fit for me, so I gravitated more toward it and got into it more and more.”
Finding His Calling
Like many South Korean kids, Kang learned some taekwondo as a child, with the martial art being widely available in schools.
However, that was more of a casual hobby, and it was MMA that really grabbed his attention when he was in high school.
“Korean kids learn taekwondo. I was no different. I trained taekwondo as a child, so that was my first introduction to martial arts.
“I started mixed martial arts in my second year of high school [around 17 or 18]. I started off here at my gym, Wang Ho Academy.”
As soon as “Mighty Warrior” tried the all-encompassing sport of MMA, he was hooked for life.
All around him, he saw people heading from education into jobs at the local shipbuilding factories, and that was not what he wanted for his own future.
“Geoje Island is known pretty much singularly for the shipbuilding industry and shipyards. I knew I didn’t want to become a shipbuilder and always enjoyed training MMA, so I went headfirst into training to become a full-time fighter.
“I started fighting in the amateur leagues in my last year of high school and fought a few fights after I completed my military service.”
Never Giving Up On His Dream
As much as Kang loved mixed martial arts, it was difficult to make a living on the regional circuit.
Fight purses were low and the mental and physical tolls were high, but he knew where he wanted to be and wouldn’t let anything get in the way – not even his parents.
The heavyweight slugger said:
“As an up-and-coming full-time athlete, I never had a sustained or consistent source of income in my life. But despite that, I’ve lived my life with pride and confidence.
“I did a lot of part-time work [to get by]. I worked as a dishwasher in restaurants, and I received support from my family while I trained to make MMA my full-time career.
“They really didn’t like or support it at the start. They even tried to make me stop fighting. They didn’t like watching me get hurt, and I didn’t get paid enough to even pay for my hospital fees when I got injured or banged up during my fights.”
Many would have quit under the pressure from family and the hand-to-mouth existence of a low-level professional competitor, but despite all that, “Mighty Warrior” stayed the course.
He was happy to live with less money while he chased something he truly loved, knowing his happiness was worth more than a stable paycheck.
“Even if I didn’t have much money, I chose to do something I love. If I wanted financial stability or consistency, I would have had to become a salaryman at a job in a company in Korea. This wouldn’t have made me truly happy. I would have questioned my purpose or meaning in life had I gone down that path.
“Despite the possibility of not being able to make as much money if I became a pro athlete, I wanted to live my life doing something that I was passionate about. I knew that would be the right choice for me, and I’ve been walking this path ever since.”
‘Good Days Will Eventually Find You’
After joining the professional MMA ranks in 2018, Kang quickly made a name for himself as a powerful finisher who delivered excitement.
That earned him a call-up to the big leagues of ONE Championship, repaying the faith and conviction he had in himself. What’s more, he even got his parents back on his side.
“I’d been on a three-fight winning streak, and my coach told me that I may have the chance to compete in ONE Championship. I knew that ONE Championship was a huge major league in the sport, so I was happy to get the offer.
“Once I joined ONE Championship and started earning more money and winning my performance bonuses, [my parents] started to show their support.”
But while Kang’s hard work in the pursuit of his dream was the major driving force, he admits he couldn’t have done it alone.
With supporters believing in him, he was able to get through the lean times. Now, he can reap the rewards in the world’s largest martial arts organization.
“Mighty Warrior” added:
“I’d managed to endure difficult moments and move forward all this time by telling myself I would make it someday, that good things would happen.
“I also received a lot of help from those close to me. It’s thanks to them that I was able to make it to where I am today. If you surround yourself with good people who care about you and do your best at what you want to do, good days eventually will find you.”