If “The Big Heart” Yoon Chang Min’s first two bouts in ONE Championship are anything to go by, he looks set to be one of the next big South Korean mixed martial arts stars.
The Team MAD representative has been flawless with two first-round wins so far, and now he has the chance to take a huge leap forward at ONE: CENTURY PART I.
On 13 October, the 25-year-old will face Myanmar knockout artist Phoe “Bushido” Thaw in a featherweight match-up, and if he wins on the biggest martial arts event in history, he will punch his ticket to the upper echelons of his division.
His opponent may be dangerous and more experienced than he is, but as he reveals, he has developed the determination to succeed against the odds throughout his life, and he hopes that will help to carry him to a life-changing victory in Tokyo, Japan.
Finding His Passion
Yoon was born and raised in the southern port city of Busan with his parents and older sister.
He admits he was a shy child who used to get picked on by the bigger boys.
“There were kids who spoke to me in a rude way or played tricks on me, because of my smaller size, so I always had a desire to become strong since I was a child,” he explains.
His was inspired to improve himself through martial arts because of the athletes he had seen on TV – particularly one Russian heavyweight, whose strength and stoicism appealed to him.
“I was mesmerized by Fedor Emelianenko,” Yoon says.
“He was different than the others. His calm and composed style during matches was really impressive. I wanted to be just like him someday.”
Yoon’s growing interest in martial arts drove him to search for a dojo in his home town when he was in high school, and he never looked back after he started to train in kickboxing and amateur boxing.
When he was 21, Yoon was drafted into the military for two years of compulsory military service, which helped him to discover he had the tenacity that would power his martial arts career.
He remembers one day when around 180 soldiers competed in a 3-kilometer race, where the winner would be rewarded with eight days of leave by a two-star general.
“I ran like crazy because I came from an athletic background and didn’t want to come in second place,” Yoon says.
“I came in first place and won an eight-day leave. But I collapsed after the race and couldn’t get up for 15 minutes because I was completely out of breath.”
With proof that he had the desire to succeed, as well as the natural athletic gifts, “The Big Heart” returned to his training after his time in the military was over with a fresh desire to prove himself as a martial artist.
Pushed To The Brink
Yoon’s career almost stopped before it had even started when he suffered a severe injury in training.
His orbital bone was fractured during a routine sparring session and his eye socket, which meant he had to undergo emergency surgery to repair the damage.
“My sister wept when she saw me being rolled out of the surgery room in a gurney,” Yoon says.
“She asked me if this is what I really wanted to do.”
Yoon admits he was tempted to take his sister’s advice and look for another line of work, while he could not book any bouts and earn money, but he was determined not to give up.
“Being poor and injured was really tough for me, but in retrospect, it was that very difficult period in my life that has given me the strength and endurance to keep training and competing to this day,” he says.
“I’m still young, and I always try to be thankful for everything, including the challenges.”
Yoon moved to the Korean capital of Seoul a year ago to train at Team MAD under head coach Yang Sung Hoon.
The gym has produced several athletes that have starred on the international circuit, and Yoon was excited to have the chance to follow in their footsteps.
Worth The Wait
“The Big Heart’s” decision to stick with his sport paid off when he won the reality television show Fighting Agent War in Japan, which caught the attention of matchmakers in The Home Of Martial Arts.
He was thrust into the spotlight straight away on the huge ONE: A NEW ERA in March, but he showed no sign of nerves as he got the first of two consecutive first-round finishes to kick off his run as a professional.
He outstruck and then submitted eight-time Indian Muay Thai national champion Bala “The Tulunad Warrior” Shetty in his debut, and followed that with a spectacular KO of Trestle “Jun Minion” Tan in June.
Those victories filled the 25-year-old featherweight with confidence and fueled his ambitions to go on to great things in ONE.
However, he knows he has a long way to go, but a big win when he takes a step up in competition against the once-beaten Phoe Thaw at the Ryogoku Kokugikan will accelerate his rise through the division.
“I am driven only by my desire to achieve my third, fourth victories and, eventually, the World Title, but right now, I am focused only on pulling off my third win.
“This is no time for me to be complacent. I have to keep my passion for victory.
“I am thrilled to be able to face a player who I really wanted to be matched up against, and to be able to do that in Japan where I have built up some recognition makes me even happier.”
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.