Two and a half months following a successful promotional debut, “Rock Man” Chen Lei (5-0) will make a quick return to the cage.
“My opponent’s striking is amazing,” the 28-year-old acknowledges. “I wish this to be the Fight of the Night, but I also expect to win, because at the end of the day, I am a much better fighter than he is.”
That unquestioned and undying self-confidence has not always been so readily available and accessible in Chen’s arsenal. While he may confidently engage in a potential thriller against Merican come 5 August, it was during his formative years where the future “Rock Man” endured the fight of his life.
Raised by a humble family in Changsha, the capital of China’s Hunan province, Chen was a victim of bullying. He was small for his age, which made him an easy target. Older kids would ridicule him and torment him. Sometimes, he was even attacked by large groups.
“The hardest part of my childhood was overcoming the difficulties of being so thin and getting bullied as much as I did. I was smaller than average,” he explains. “I was bullied in elementary school by older classmates. They kicked me in the stomach and bullied me in a group.”
Chen was too embarrassed to tell anyone about the situation, not even his family. He admits that his “pride took a hit.” But he was determined to end the physical and mental abuse, and eventually found a way to address the situation on his own terms.
“I started training in sanda to defend myself. After that, they did not dare to bully me,” he states. “I felt it a disgrace to get bullied like that, and I chose to fix the problem on my own without mentioning it to my parents. They were not at my side at this time anyway, as they were both working in another city.”
Although he initially started his martial arts journey for self-defense purposes, it led to a continuous path of self-improvement. Through sanda, and other martial arts disciplines, Chen learned as much about life’s values as he did about the specific techniques. One instructor and his teachings, in particular, served as his guide.
“My best memories are of training with my coach Sergio Cuina,” the former bullying victim says. “He taught me a lot, not only my skills, but also how to become a better person.”
By the time he reached his twenties, Chen had dabbled a little bit in Muay Thai and boxing. Eventually, he added Brazilian jiu-jitsu into the mix and would become the Shanghai Open BJJ Champion.
“Rock Man” was completely enamored by martial arts, and knew this was where his true calling lay. That is when he decided to get involved in mixed martial arts.
Chen’s family, however, did not share the same excitement. Instead, they wanted him to forego his newfound dream and get a regular job.
With that in mind, “Rock Man” began to fight for his family’s approval. He started his mixed martial arts career on a hot streak, winning his first four matches and finishing all of his opponents. Soon, his relatives came around, and he finally made believers out of them.
“Fighting as a profession is tough,” Chen explains. “At first, my family did not understand, and only a few of them supported me, but I always insisted on doing what I wanted to do and I have endured. My family was against my pursuit of martial arts as a career in the beginning, but I first proved to myself, then to my family, that the hard work is worth it.”
That hard work led him to ONE Championship. In May, the Chinese bantamweight opened ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES with a thrilling TKO win over debutant Jeremy “Predator” Meciaz in the first round.
For Chen, that was just the beginning. He takes the next step in his martial arts journey on 5 August when he clashes with Merican, and it will not stop until he attains the ONE Bantamweight World Championship.
“I really believe I can accomplish any goal I have for myself in the cage. I am undefeated so far, and have a world championship as my goal,” he says. “I want to take the ONE Championship belt, make history, and show people everything is possible. As long as you dare to believe and work hard for your dreams, you will succeed.”