“Pretty Boy” Kwon Won Il has become one of the most promising young athletes in ONE Championship through a tireless determination to succeed.
However, the 24-year-old admits he only got this far after some serious soul-searching in his youth when he realized he had let down the people who supported him through thick and thin.
The Daejeon native began his martial arts journey when he showed natural talent in his elementary school’s taekwondo team and established himself as one of his country’s top athletes.
Despite his success, he quickly gave up the sport when he progressed to junior high school, and his focus drifted as he grew up. He was far from a model student, and without a healthy way to channel his energy, he got into fights with other students.
The final straw came when he got in an altercation with a classmate, and his high school principal summoned his parents to his office to tell them he had to transfer to another school.
Worse still, he contacted Kwon’s parents, and they bumped into their son just before they went into the office to hear about “Pretty Boy’s” transgressions.
He was mortified that his mother and father were made to feel embarrassed by his actions, but they still defended him.
“As all high school students in Korea do, my class was planning to go on a school trip out of town, but my principal told me I couldn’t go along,” Kwon says.
“I saw my father begging the principal to let me go on the trip so I could have a chance to make some memories with my friends before I left school, but the principal didn’t budge.”
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The news upset them more than Kwon himself, and he says he experienced the turning point in his life when he watched his mother cry in front of the principal after she was told about 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.”
His father wasted little time moving his son to a better school in Hwajeong, which was hundreds of miles away, just north of Seoul.
“It was a long drive, and it gave me a chance to do a lot of thinking,” Kwon adds.
“I realized that my actions had a direct impact on my parents. I realized it was time for me to do something to have a positive impact on them.”
Kwon’s dad rented a flat for his son, where he lived alone and dedicated himself to school life.
He also made new friends in his new home who helped to change his outlook, and inspired him to set goals for his life and work to achieve them.
“I immediately started to turn things around in my life. Back in Daejeon, my friends and I were only interested in fooling around, but my new classmates all knew what they wanted to do with their lives.
“I learned from them and started dreaming about my future and got to work to try and make them happen,” he says.
“Pretty Boy” found a mixed martial arts gym, Extreme Combat, and that rekindled the passion for training he had lost as a child.
Although he had to work two jobs to pay for his training at night, and he was often exhausted when he arrived at the gym, he had a new focus.
“I was really tired – both physically and mentally – when I got to the gym in the evenings after work, but I was determined to rise higher and make my parents feel proud of me,” Kwon adds.
His dedication paid off when he traveled to Japan to make his professional mixed martial arts debut when he was 19. He debuted against Hirotaka Miyakawa – a man with 19 professional bouts – and knocked him out in 36 seconds to launch a career that has taken him to the world’s largest martial arts organization.
His success has made his parents proud, and they continue to do whatever they can to help their child succeed.
“Now, my energy comes from my family,” Kwon says.
“My mother now prepares huge meals for me ahead of big matches to make sure I get all the energy I need. My father’s the quiet type, but he watches all of my matches and encourages me often.”
Their support has made his resolve to succeed as strong as ever, gives him courage when he faces the world’s best mixed martial artists in the Circle, and motivates him to achieve the kind of success that could go some way to thanking them for everything they have done for him.
“It’s time to give back what they have given me,” he adds.
ONE: CENTURY is the biggest World Championship martial arts event in history with 28 World Champions featured across various martial arts. No organization has ever promoted two full-scale World Championship events on the same day.
The Home Of Martial Arts will break new ground as it brings multiple World Title bouts, a trio of World Grand Prix Championship Finals, and several World Champion versus World Champion matches to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan on 13 October.