‘It Really Isolated Me’ – Danial Williams Opens Up About Long Battle With Crippling Social Anxiety
With an entertaining, all-action style, “Mini T” Danial Williams has quickly become a fan favorite in ONE Championship, but he didn’t always enjoy the spotlight.
In fact, the Thai-Australian star grew up as a painfully shy and unsure child who never felt comfortable in his own skin.
Williams next will return to action on March 24 at ONE Fight Night 8: Bhullar vs. Malykhin on Prime Video when he takes on Rui Botelho in a strawweight Muay Thai bout at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
That evening, those watching the U.S. primetime event will see a confident version of Williams – one that’s incredibly different from his younger self.
Now in the final stretch of his preparations for Botelho, the 29-year-old opened up about his years-long struggle with debilitating social anxiety and how martial arts helped him overcome it.
“Mini T” told ONEFC.com:
“I was a super shy kid. Super shy. I had a group of friends that I was comfortable with, but I just couldn’t, like, try and get a girlfriend. I was petrified of girls. I couldn’t speak to them even if my life depended on it. So it was quite challenging in high school and just making connections like that.”
Williams continued to be plagued by social anxiety through his college years, forcing him to retract from even the most simple interactions.
“I was always by myself. I couldn’t even ask the teachers for help, which is pretty crazy. Super, super shy.
“I was never present with how I spoke. Then I would just f****** cringe a lot at the things that I said after. It really isolated me.”
Finding His Identity
“Mini T” believes that his crippling anxiety came, in part, from his struggle with personal identity – or a lack thereof.
Half Thai and half Australian, he grew up in the latter country as the target of racially charged comments, which only reinforced the damaging belief that he didn’t truly belong.
“As a kid, I was feeling different as well because I wanted to be this white Australian footy [soccer] player. That’s all my mates were, kind of thing. I guess I’m the different kid at school. There weren’t too many mixed-race people. And I hated the comments on the footy field, even though it wasn’t crazy. But it was just like the racist comments here and there.”
Because of his mixed-race heritage, Williams never truly felt at home among one group of people. Whether in Thailand or Australia, he was an outsider.
With that powerful sense of otherness hitting him on a daily basis, he grew increasingly uneasy, especially in public settings:
“I was just uncomfortable with myself. And then, obviously, coming to Thailand on holidays, I hated being in northern Thailand because there weren’t so many foreigners around that much that you just get stared at, like my brother and me. I hated going to the shopping center. People would just stare at you. I f****** hated it. ‘Why are they staring at me?’ So it could have stemmed from that as well.”
‘Martial Arts Is One Of My Lifesavers’
Unable to feel comfortable with his own identity, Williams’ extreme shyness was rooted in a lack of confidence.
Fortunately, martial arts turned that around.
A former WMC Muay Thai World Champion, “Mini T” is now ranked in ONE’s strawweight top five in both MMA and Muay Thai and is widely regarded as one of the organization’s most entertaining fighters.
His talent for combat sports is obvious. What might be less obvious, though, is how those sports aided his self-esteem – and eventually helped him win his battle with social anxiety:
“Martial art is a massive confidence-building platform. Because you start to step out of your comfort zone massively, physically and mentally, that’s a very important way to improve when you do step out of those comfort zones. So yeah, martial arts is one of my lifesavers, I suppose. It gives me passion and drive and made me understand myself better.”
Indeed, martial arts gave Williams a powerful tool for self-reflection. Fighting taught him who he was and forced him to examine his motives in life.
At the same time, he recalls that earlier in his career, he often found solace in taking punishment inside the ring.
Looking back, the 29-year-old wonders if that impulse stemmed from his inner feelings:
“Why do we fight? Is it because we’re so uncomfortable with ourselves that we like to endure that pain? I don’t know. It’s like saying my fighting style, especially earlier, was that because I was so uncomfortable with myself that I could get hit? I don’t know. Those thoughts crossed my mind. Maybe it was when I was a little bit uncomfortable myself.
“And it’s like, I didn’t love myself enough. That was an outlet for me that, just like, one, punish myself, but two, let that frustration out. Because you would be in your head a lot. And I feel like that’s what happens when you’re shy and nervous and anxious all the time. Like, it’s just a lot of built-up frustration, and you just need that release.”
Helping The Next Generation
Nowadays, the strawweight star is using his experiences as a shy, anxiety-ridden child to help kids who might be suffering due to similar issues.
Williams remembers exactly what it felt like to be unsure of himself, to doubt himself, and to struggle every day with a lack of belonging.
He also remembers just how impactful some kind words could be – and that’s why he aims to make anyone training in his gym feel special.
“Mini T” added:
“I’m pretty good with just talking about things outside of fighting as well, and I mean, the martial arts and stuff, as well. So maybe saying something about the shirt they’re wearing. Trying to make these small conversations with them and then remember their names when they come in. That was what I always liked.
“When people remember you or remember something about you, then that’s a real confidence-building thing. It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m being seen. I’m not in the corner all the time.’”