‘I’m Born For This’ – MMA Rising Star Noelle Grandjean’s Journey To ONE

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With martial arts ingrained into her psyche from a young age, it seems like Noelle Grandjean was destined to compete on the global stage.

The 26-year-old atomweight will debut against fellow newcomer Lea Bivins at ONE on Prime Video 3 next Friday, October 21, and she’ll have the chance to showcase her life’s work in front of a massive audience.

Get to know the exciting phenom known as “Lil’ Monkey” before she steps into the Circle at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

A Blend Of Cultures

Grandjean was born in the Netherlands in 1996 to a local father and a Thai mother. But while she has a half-brother and a half-sister, she was largely raised without them.

“I grew up a little bit as an only child,” she says.

Already from a multicultural background, Grandjean’s family later relocated to France, where the youngster spent much of her formative years. 

She recalls:

“I moved to France when I was 9. I moved around a lot, actually, kind of international. I’m also half Thai, so that’s why I’m living in Thailand right now. I’m a three-culture child.”

Beginning Her Martial Arts Journey

Grandjean’s father was a pioneering martial artist who trained, competed, and coached in judo, Muay Thai, and even early MMA.

He was eager to get his daughter involved, and judo was the most palatable compromise with his wife, who was worried that “Lil’ Monkey” would get hurt.

“My mom didn’t want me to get hit in the face because I was a girl,” Grandjean says. 

“I started judo at the age of 6. My dad took me. It’s funny, I didn’t really like it, actually. But I learned how to love it. I love judo now, and I’m very thankful for everything I got from it – the values and also the physical abilities.”

Although Grandjean focused on judo for almost two decades, her father’s passion for various styles had planted a seed inside of her.

With that in mind, the young athlete always knew that her path would eventually lead to mixed martial arts.

Chasing Her Dreams

Grandjean won various accolades in judo, including the French Judo Championships and the Thailand Judo Championships.

Then at 23, she decided it was time to follow her heart into the all-encompassing sport of MMA.

Although it was late by some standards, the move wasn’t difficult for Grandjean. Instead, the switch came naturally to the talented French-Thai competitor, thanks to her lifetime of athletic experience.

She states:

“I feel like I’m born for this. Since I was conscious, I have had it in my mind because my dad was also doing it. It’s just like a lifestyle. It’s natural for us. It’s in my blood.

“Of course, [judo] helps a lot with MMA. That’s an amazing background.”

Determined to pursue her new career, Grandjean made the most of her heritage and moved to Thailand, where she’s been learning elite stand-up skills at Tiger Muay Thai.

“I’ve been working on my striking because obviously, I was more grappling [before],” she says.

“Being in Thailand helps with this. It’s the place to be. And I hope I’m well-rounded. That’s the goal – to be good everywhere.”

Inspired By Her Father

Just like her initial enthusiasm for combat sports, Grandjean’s mission to become accomplished in every area was spurred by her father’s forward-thinking approach to cross-training. 

The patriarch’s influence has been a constant throughout her life – giving his daughter motivation to continue evolving.

“My dad [is my biggest inspiration], 100 percent, because he’s also a martial artist,” the 26-year-old says. 

“He’s second-dan in judo and a black belt in karate. Also, he started with MMA [without] gloves at the time, and Muay Thai. He’s well-rounded.”

Along with being the catalyst for her burgeoning career, Grandjean’s father has remained her biggest supporter.

Even now, that backing will be a crucial part of her future success.

The 26-year-old says:

“He will be my cornerman [for my ONE debut], and he believes in me so much. He’s always put so much work into me, and he’s traveled around the world with me. I’m very grateful for this.”

‘It’s A Big Step’

Two decades of work have now brought Grandjean to the world’s largest martial arts organization.

Amassing a perfect 3-0 record since her switch to MMA, the Dutch-born judoka has looked impressive so far, and she can’t wait to perform on October 21.

“It’s a big step, and I am very honored to fight for ONE. For me, it’s the greatest promotion. I love everything about it. Honestly, I’m very excited about this,” she says.

“Lil’ Monkey” has big goals for her time in the organization and plans to kick-start her tenure in style.

For the rising star, that means earning a victory, providing excitement, and embodying what it means to be a martial artist on the biggest stage of all.

Grandjean adds:

“What is most important for me is to offer an entertaining fight, and also show respect and great values.

“Of course, I’m aiming to be the best. I want to be the best. Like everyone, I guess, but we’re aiming for that belt.”

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