How Martial Arts Completely Changed John Shink’s Life

Nigerian flyweight mixed martial artist John Shink

John Shink is ready to step onto the global stage.

On 14 August, the 31-year-old Tiger Muay Thai representative will make his ONE Championship debut against fellow promotional newcomer Yodkaikaew “Y2K” Fairtex at ONE: NO SURRENDER II in Bangkok, Thailand.

Before Shink kicks off his career in the world’s largest martial arts organization, we explore his younger days as a Nigerian living in Wales and his winding path to combat sports.

Early Life

Shink was born in Nigeria as one of three fraternal triplets, which included a brother and a sister. He also had an older brother.

His family was well-off compared to other people in the country. That meant they could afford a proper education – a must if you wanted to thrive on the continent.

“In Africa, you had to pay for school,” he says. “You had to go to a private school for a good education because public school just wasn’t cutting it.”

Beyond his formal education, Shink also had a strong fascination with cultures that couldn’t be found in Nigeria, and he spent many hours of free time absorbing those cultures through television.

“I used to watch Western movies,” he says. “And it was the only place where I actually saw, shall I say, white people.”

A Difficult Transition

In August 1998, just after his ninth birthday, Shink and his family uprooted themselves and moved to the European country of Wales. After that move, it was no longer the young Nigerian observing Western culture – instead, Western culture was observing him.

“At the airport [in Wales], going up the escalator for the first time in my life, we all fell over,” Shink recalls with a laugh.

“Everywhere we went, people were looking at us, and we were literally the only black people in the village.”

However, not everything in his new home was a laughing matter.

Aside from a few Nigerian friends in the country, the family had nobody to fall back on while adapting to life in southwest Great Britain. Because of this, a young Shink found himself ostracized by the type of people he’d once admired on television.

“Growing up in a predominantly white area, when racism was still quite a big thing, I had to look after myself and fight for myself,” he says. “That made me develop such a strong character because I felt like I could do things by myself.”

After a few years, Shink’s family moved yet again – this time to a more diverse place. That allowed the boy who had stood out in Wales to finally start blending in.

“When I was like 12 or 13, we moved to Luton, England. And when I lived in Luton, there were more Asian, white, and black people at the school,” he says.

The move to England was also a key moment in the story of John Shink, as Luton was the place where he began to form a lifelong relationship with martial arts.

A New Passion

Shink discovered martial arts while studying to be a sports therapist at university. Like many others, he took up the discipline in order to protect himself against bigger people.

“Whenever [my friends and I] went out and there was trouble, the other guys would always try to fight me because I was the smallest guy – you know, an easy target,” Shink says.

“Enough was enough,” he adds. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s it. I might as well learn how to defend myself.’”

With that, Shink scouted places to train in Luton and started practicing at MoreFire Icon under the tutelage of Delroy McDowell.

“[McDowell] was a purple belt at that time, and he did mixed martial arts and trained us in mixed martial arts as well,” Shink says.

To help round out his game, the budding martial artist would take a 9-mile trip to Kaang Raang Muay Thai in Dunstable. He split his training between the two gyms, which helped lay the foundation for his mixed martial arts career.

Plus, the more Shink trained, the less likely he was to find himself in street fights when he was out with friends.

“It definitely made me more disciplined and more mature,” he says. “I knew I didn’t need to prove myself, especially not on the streets.”

He did, however, need to prove himself in a more refined setting ­– professional mixed martial arts.

Following a stellar amateur career, Shink went pro in 2016. Over the course of the next year, he earned three wins – two of which ended by TKO and KO – while also competing in Muay Thai.

Given that early success, he couldn’t shake the voice in his head, which was telling him to put sports therapy aside and focus on professional fighting.

That career switch was enticing, but Shink knew it wouldn’t be easy. He would require funds to uproot himself once again and live in a country that is very different than England.

“I just knew that I had to give this mixed martial arts thing a shot,” he says. “So I started saving money.”

The Big Move

In February 2019, Shink had saved enough to take the next logical step.

“I told my mom that I’m moving to Thailand,” he says. “At first, she didn’t believe me because it was so sudden. She did not want me to go, but at the same time, she knew it was something I wanted to do.

“She knew that I’d been training for over seven or eight years, and I didn’t want to regret anything in my life – it was just something I had to do.”

And with that, his mother – despite not understanding the magnitude of his undertaking – gave the young man her blessings.

In the end, the sacrifices paid off. Shink fully dedicated himself to mixed martial arts and has spent more than a year at Tiger Muay Thai refining his skills and competing in the local Phuket circuit.

Having now signed with the world’s largest martial arts organization, it’s clear the rising talent has come a long way in a sport that was once just his hobby.

“Now I’m with ONE Championship, taking that first step,” Shink says. “So, it looks like I’m getting closer to achieving my goal.

“This is where I’m supposed to be. I don’t care about being famous or anything like that. But I would like to know that I’m really good at what I do. I want to see how far I can get in this sport and just live a normal, happy life.”

Of course, life has been anything but normal for the man who’s traversed the world in search of better opportunities – but after finding his true passion in martial arts, Shink is okay with that.

“I always say that everything happens for a reason. So, everything that’s happened to me up until this point was meant to happen,” he says.

“I don’t regret anything that has happened to me. But having to travel all over the world – that’s just a blessing. I get to see amazing places and beautiful places.”

Read more: The Best Performances From The Stars Of ONE: NO SURRENDER II

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