Jeff “The Machine” Huang is always up for a challenge. As a matter of fact, he thrives in the face of adversity.
The welterweight from Chinese Taipei will return to the cage on 10 February to battle unbeaten hometown favorite, Agilan “The Alligator” Thani, at ONE: THRONE OF TIGERS in Kuala Lumpur.
“I want to do my best, but not because he is undefeated, but because he is a test for me,” the 38-year-old explains ahead of the clash at the Stadium Negara. “He is going to be strong.”
To most, stepping into enemy territory to fight an undefeated local hero could be quite a daunting proposition. But to Huang, it will be nothing compared to the sacrifices he has already made to get to this point. Even several thousand pro-Thani partisans will never to able to break him mentally, not when this sport is something he was willing to give up everything for.
Participating in combat sports, especially one as intense as MMA, can be a little surprising for some people. But pursuing it as a career when you are a successful, 30-something investment consultant will turn up level of incredulity in the eyes of the general public.
That is exactly what Huang did. He left a well-paid but unfulfilling job in the financial world, moving thousands of miles from home to pursue his passion in MMA. Veering so far off the beaten path, it is no wonder Huang’s conservative parents could not initially come to terms with his decision.
“I only started martial arts when I was in the graduation year of college at around 22 or 23. The reason I did it then was I had always wanted to train in martial arts, but my parents did not allow me to do that,” he says. “I was an adult then, and I could do what I wanted, so I went for it.”
After a few years of karate, Huang progressed through various styles into more and more full-contact varieties, and when he found Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he soon became aware that he had changed the course of his life forever.
“When I started [training in Muay Thai and BJJ], it made me realize that this was what I wanted to do, so I quit my job,” he says. “I went and trained in Brazil, the USA, and now I am in Thailand.”
Now, years removed from that initial decision in 2011, he talks about it nonchalantly, showing no signs of how hard that time must have been. To be imprisoned in a lifestyle that is torturing you from the inside would be harder though, especially when Huang had found his passion. It just so happened that it was MMA.
“For a long time, it was tough,” he reveals, when pressed on the effects it had on his life and relationship with his family. “We had very big arguments, but now my mother is my biggest supporter.”
With his family finally on his side, Huang was then mentally free of any shackles and could give his all to his MMA career.
“The Machine” debuted in 2012 and picked up a swift KO in his first professional bout, after a stint training with Brazilian Top Team. He then picked up the pace on the fighting front after training at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, famously the home of Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, and Luke Rockhold. It was there where he met Mike Swick, which led to his current home of AKA Thailand in the picturesque setting of Phuket.
From the southern Thailand island, he started to become aware of ONE Championship, and after amassing some impressive wins via Chinese Taipei’s PRO FC, he was thrilled to get the nod when ONE revealed it would be heading to Chinese Taipei with ONE: WAR OF DRAGONS.
Huang dispatched Bala Shetty in the first round on his ONE debut, proving his worth to the promotion’s talent scouts and forging an even bigger name for himself in his homeland, where the sport is still searching for its local heroes.
Amongst a few others, he is becoming that. He is certainly part of the pioneering few, such as ONE Atomweight World Title contender Jenny Huang, who are putting Chinese Taipei on the MMA map. And for his bold career choices to be vindicated even further, climbing to the top of the division at ONE would prove a lot.
From where he is standing right now, there are no easy options, and that is why he has been matched with the undefeated Malaysian Thani, who boasts an impressive 6-0 record to date.
“It is a good opportunity for both of us and it represents a new challenge,“ Huang offers. ”We are people who get in the cage because we love MMA and want to test ourselves against each other. Just because I want to compete against him does not mean I have to think anything bad about him. He is a really good fighter.”
Although Huang has only two more professional bouts to his credit than Thani, he does believe that his young adversary’s clean slate could work against him, having himself tasted the bitter side of defeat.
“Sometimes a loss is good experience — experience which he does not have,” the 6-2 welterweight explains. “I have been in hard, difficult situations and I did not give up. It can help you to be patient. Of course he has a good record, 6-0, but it means he has not suffered before, and that is the difference. I will use that to my advantage to win this fight.”
That is why nothing will faze “The Machine”. He has gone through adversity in the cage and in life, and he is still here fighting. He almost lost his family through his desire to take a path of self-fulfilment, and now they are right beside him. Simply put, life could not be any better.