The nickname “Little Giant” is not just an extra element of showmanship for #2-ranked strawweight MMA contender Bokang Masunyane. It represents his struggles, his hard work, and his success against the odds.
And when he hears those words before facing #3-ranked Hiroba Minowa at ONE 159: De Ridder vs. Bigdash on July 22, Masunyane will take extra strength from knowing he earned the moniker – just like he earned his spot in the world’s largest martial arts organization.
Here’s how the South African standout came to be known as “Little Giant,” and why it truly represents his inspiring journey to the global stage.
The Origin Story
Now standing 5-foot-1, Masunyane has always been short in stature. However, he’s never let it hold him back.
Born in the small African country of Lesotho, the strawweight star had a difficult early childhood. He lost his single-parent mother at just 2 years old, moved to live with his aunt in Johannesburg, South Africa, and then spent the majority of his youth in a nearby orphanage.
But having experienced all of that hardship, Masunyane was determined not to let something more trivial get in the way of his sporting ambitions.
“I used to play a bit of rugby and soccer at school. After every match, I was one of the few people that would always be Man of the Match or Player of the Tournament. I think my height meant I outshined other people’s expectations of me because of my physical size,” he says.
“My ability to be able to take on big guys and compete against them at the high level, I think that actually blew a lot of people’s minds. And I believe also that the ‘Giant’ part is that heart that I had. I never cared who I competed against but just gave it my all.”
Watching Masunyane from the sidelines was a teacher named Mr. Venter, who was impressed by the youngster’s drive and amazed by his backstory.
Mr. Venter knew his student could motivate other children in similar situations – and that’s how “Little Giant” was born.
“A few times, he actually said to me he’d love to write a book about the story of my life and call it ‘Little Giant.’ This was before I even started fighting or anything, back when I just wrestled. He was inspired by my life story.
“Later on when I started fighting, I got asked for nicknames for fight nights, and I had to make a decision. I came up with a few names, asked my teammates what they thought, and got ideas from them. Then I remembered that ‘Little Giant’ name. It just stuck. There’s nothing that says dynamite comes in small packages better than ‘Little Giant.’”
Ignoring The Doubters
Masunyane learned to take pride in his smaller stature – even when some of his peers tried to put him down because of it.
The South African was emerging as a talented athlete, and he wouldn’t let himself listen to narrow-minded opinions from others.
Instead, he continued to focus on working hard and surrounding himself with people who believed in him.
“You’ll always come against those kids, those people. I just took it as they don’t understand. I’m here to prove myself, and I was not here to prove anything to them,” Masunyane says.
“Every time it happened, I did my best to ignore it. And, honestly, I focused a lot on the positive people that were around in my life – people that will tell me not to care, people that will actually keep me motivated to stay focused on my life, my career, and my talents.”
These days, the Coach Quan University representative doesn’t hold any resentment toward those doubters from his past.
He’s now achieving great things in professional mixed martial arts, and he knows success – not a personal vendetta – is the ultimate redemption.
“I don’t wish anything bad for them. But the only thing I wish is for them to see my performance and see my achievements and say, ‘Hey, I know this guy.’ Because deep inside, they’ll know what they said about me.
“If I meet them, of course I’ll show a friendlier side of me and hopefully get to laugh with them one day. For me, I believe it was a misunderstanding from them, but it motivated me to become a better person.”
Becoming A Giant In Life
Beyond his physical stature, “Little Giant” perfectly represents the various obstacles that Masunyane has faced and overcome.
He knows that many people in similar situations could fall through the cracks of society and struggle to find opportunities. It’s something he’s seen firsthand.
At the same time, Masunyane finds himself with the chance to achieve something truly special as the #2-ranked strawweight in the world’s largest martial arts organization.
“I believe that the ‘Giant’ element is the truth of where I come from in life. I’m not supposed to be at ONE Championship. I’m not supposed to be at the highest level. I’m not supposed to be able to live as a young, independent man,” he says.
“I’ve been in a space where there was no hope for my future. And honestly, I never thought as a young kid I would have ended up in the place where I am today. Life has given me an opportunity to become the best I can possibly be.
“I believe I’m one of the lucky few individuals in South Africa. There’s so many people that have been in situations like mine, or even worse than mine, and they’re not lucky enough to be in the space that I am. I’m grateful for that. I come from a little world, but I’m living a giant life.”
Honored To Inspire Others With His Story
Masunyane is thankful for the way things have turned out, though he shouldn’t attribute it all to luck.
His tireless work ethic and determination have carried him to this point and make him a role model for others who face long odds.
Despite having few resources and even fewer expectations – an orphan from a small country, dwarfed in a big city – he’s proven that absolutely anything is possible.
Now, he’s competing on a massive global platform for martial arts, reaching millions around the world with his remarkable story.
The 28-year-old says:
“It feels amazing when I get messages from people. And mostly, it’s actually guys that are also being bullied and stigmatized for their size that message me.
“The say, ‘Thank you for inspiring me, I actually want to be MMA fighter because of what you just did,’ or, ‘I want to be more successful in whatever I do because of how you fight and your attitude leading up to it.’
“So, for me, that’s the goal. And not just to inspire people that are being stigmatized for their body or size. For me, it’s to inspire the rest of the world, starting with my country first. If I can inspire my country, my people, I’ll be very happy.”
As for the book? That wasn’t just a casual thought, and Mr. Venter is still planning to reveal his former student’s life journey in all its glory.
“As soon as I turned pro as an MMA fighter, we got together again,? Masunyane adds. “We are already actually on with the making of it, which is quite nice and really crazy.”