In the past year, 26-year-old Jenny Huang of Chinese Taipei has impressively disposed of three quality opponents in ONE Championship with slick submissions, pushed her flawless record to 5-0, and excited the fans every time she stepped inside the cage. Now, she is being rewarded for her efforts.
Huang is set to challenge inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee for her coveted title in the main event of ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM. The card broadcasts live on Saturday Night, 11 March, from the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.“I am really shocked. It means nothing is impossible,” she says. “The champion Angela Lee is a well-rounded fighter, so it is an honor to have an opportunity to fight against her.”
With the title bout set, Huang decided to make some important life changes. The atomweight left her longtime gym, Martial Armour in her native Chinese Taipei, and relocated to China to be part of Tianjin Top Team, which features fellow ONE competitors Li Kai Wen, Xie Bin, and Ma Jia Wen.
The Taiwan native made the jump for two reasons: “First, Tianjin Top Team has good training systems. I came to learn many martial arts, and train with the many great pro MMA fighters. Second, it is sad about the environment in my hometown. A few people have made the MMA business like Game of Thrones. It is not easy to be a pro MMA fighter there.”
Though it was not an easy decision to pack her bags and move to Northeastern China, Huang believes the sacrifices she is making will prove to be worthwhile because she wants to return to Chinese Taipei as a World Champion, and most importantly, make her family proud. More specifically, her parents.
Truth be told, she has always had a difficult time obtaining her mother and father’s approval when it came to her martial arts pursuits.
As a child, Huang was hooked on martial arts cinema and often mimicked Jackie Chan’s fight choreography. For young Jenny, she yearned to learn something — anything — and desperately tried to make that happen. She initially attempted to practice taekwondo and attended a pair of classes with her younger brother. Her father, however, pulled the plug on that immediately.
“My father thought I should be an elegant girl, and just study and be smart,” she recalls.
Ironically, it was in school where Huang would excel in the martial arts. When she was 12, a friend invited her to train in judo. She honed her craft in junior high and made the high school judo team, earning her black belt along the way.
That only further fueled her love for martial arts, and eventually led her to MMA, where she could master all of the disciplines she wanted.
Using judo as a base, she made her professional debut in May 2015, and has since rattled off five consecutive victories. That includes her most recent win, where she submitted Team Lakay’s April Osenio via gogoaplata in the second round at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION last December. It was a performance that won her ONE’s Submission of the Year 2016 honors.
Nevertheless, even though the number one contender has become a modern-day action star in Asia’s premier MMA organization, not having her mother and father’s approval still stings.
“My parents do not understand my MMA career,” she says. “They just want me be a normal girl. This is one of reasons why I am training so hard. I want to prove myself to my parents and have them be proud of me. I want to be myself. I do not want someone to tell me who to be.”
Huang can accomplish that, and much more, by defeating Lee for the belt at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM. But that will be much easier said than done. After all, the champ is nicknamed “Unstoppable” for a reason.
Also undefeated, Lee has become the top draw in ONE Championship. Since her debut back in 2015, the 20-year-old heroine has won all six of her matches. The first five came by submission, with the sixth seeing her edge out Japanese champion Mei Yamaguchi in a Fight Of The Year thriller for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship.
That does not deter Huang. In fact, it motivates her. The Taiwanese judoka is confident in her abilities, and plans to formally introduce the world to the martial artist she truly is at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM.
“I am very confident. I believe in myself. That is what I learned from my last fight. I know I will fight amazing this time also,” she says with conviction. “I am very grateful ONE Championship believes in me and gave me this opportunity.
“It is time to show people who Jenny Huang is. You never know the result because I am unpredictable.”
The 21-year-old Benguet, Philippines, native witnessed first-hand how Team Lakay’s elder statesman Folayang rose above poverty, and endured a tumultuous period of uncertainty in his mixed martial arts career before becoming one of the brightest superstars and most beloved titleholders in ONE Championship.
“Before he got the belt, he went through a lot of ups and downs in his career. He was beaten and was knocked out twice, but I saw the fight still burning in him,” Pacio says. “Now, he still goes to the gym and tries to get better and better every day. He taught me a lot about life and its spiritual side, and he taught me positive attitudes that will bring me up in my career.”
Now, nearly five months removed from his first career loss, Pacio will carry all of his hero’s guidance and wisdom with him as he restarts his campaign to title contention.
At ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM on Saturday Night, 11 March, he will square off against former ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke at the Impact Arena. The bout takes place in his opponent’s former stomping grounds of Bangkok, Thailand, where Amnuaysirichoke made a name for himself on the national Muay Thai scene. The veteran Amnuaysirichoke has had over 300 professional Muay Thai fights, and ultimately became a three-time Lumpinee Champion.
Pacio is fully aware of his opponent’s striking prowess, but he can throw down, too. The Team Lakay product has an extensive background in wushu and Muay Thai, as well as a formidable ground game that he has put on display numerous times inside the cage. With that in mind, the young prodigy feels particularly confident.
“Of course I have the advantage in wrestling and grappling. I can strike with him, but I have a lot of respect for his striking game. He is a three-time Lumpinee champion, so I respect him a lot,” the Filipino states. “I will push myself, I will do well, and I will do everything to win this fight, because it is a very important fight. It does not matter if it is a decision, a submission, or a knockout.”
Pacio, who learned Thai Boxing from his uncle in 2007 and transitioned into wushu two years later, has experienced a meteoric rise in MMA. The athletic young man fans see today is a far cry from the overweight child he once was.
While beginning his education at the University of Cordilleras in 2013 as a Hospitality Management major, he also started competing on the school’s now-famed wushu team, and was training with Filipino fight legend Mark Sangiao at Team Lakay in anticipation of his MMA debut.
He made the plunge in December 2013, rattled off six consecutive wins in the next two and a half years, and finished all of his opponents with relative ease. Then, he was pleasantly surprised when he got the call to sign for ONE Championship. By that time, he was barely 20.
“I did not expect to be here at this level last year,” he admits. “When I started fighting in MMA, I thought I would fight on the big stage when I turned 25, or something like that. But through my hard work and hitting the gym every day, Coach Mark saw that I was pushing myself at a young age. So I also started to see myself as ready for fighting on the big stage in ONE Championship.”
Pacio’s string of success only continued. He scored a TKO win over Filipino wushu champion Rabin Catalan at ONE: GLOBAL RIVALS in April 2016, and followed that up by submitting Thai wrestling champion Kritsada Kongsrichai with a first round rear-naked choke at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD later that August.
That combination of his hot streak and impeccable skills earned the university student a shot at Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito’s strawweight belt. It was something he almost couldn’t believe was happening.
The bout took place at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS in October. Pacio initially held control, stuffing nearly all of the unbeaten champ’s takedowns and battering him on the feet. But a minute into the third round, he made a rookie mistake when defending a takedown. That cost him the bout, and brought the first and only blemish to his record.
“My game plan was to sprawl and not to go with him to the cage because that is his strength. I was stopping all the takedowns in the center of the cage. He took me down once and did nothing. But when he got me against the cage, he got me in the choke and that was it,” he says with an embarrassed chuckle. “I was thinking so much about my striking game that I forgot I also had grappling skills.”
Everyone in this sport makes mistakes, even Folayang. Now, he hopes to bounce back like his hero and defeat Amnuaysirichoke.
There is a lot at stake for both mixed martial artists. Like Pacio, Amnuaysirichoke’s only career loss came at the hands of Naito, whom he lost the belt to last May in front of his countrymen at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS in Bangkok. He certainly does not want to repeat the same mistake, especially in his home country.
Most importantly, the winner of this bout could easily become the number one contender and secure a much-desired rematch with the Japanese World Champion before the year concludes.
“Fans have been waiting for this fight to happen. They expect the winner of this fight to get a title rematch against Naito,” the Filipino says. “Everyone wants to be a champion, but I want it badly.”
Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke had been the most dominant strawweight in ONE Championship. The Muay Thai legend crushed his opponents en route to becoming the inaugural ONE Strawweight World Champion, and the first Thai-born MMA World Champion. But he made a critical mistake in his last fight that cost him the belt and shattered his pride.
Last May, in front of his compatriots in Bangkok, Thailand, the Evolve MMA product defended his title against unbeaten Japanese wrecking ball Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS. Although he had a promising start, Naito eventually wore him down with flawless grappling, and spoiled his homecoming in the fourth round via rear-naked choke.
Not only did Amnuaysirichoke drop the title and receive his first career loss, but he felt he had let his countrymen down.
“I was disappointed that I lost in front of my home crowd. I had prepared for all aspects for that fight with Naito — both stand-up and on the ground. But I made a mistake on the ground, and he was able to capitalize,” the 38-year-old admits.
“I learned that there were aspects of my game that I had to work even harder on and improve. It made me determined to continue to become the best martial artist I can be.“
Nearly ten months later, Amnuaysirichoke will return to the scene of the crime and begin his road to redemption. On Saturday Night, 11 March, the Muay Thai legend will fight ex-title challenger Joshua Pacio at the Impact Arena in Bangkok during ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM.
Like Amnuaysirichoke, Pacio is a devastating striker. The quick 21-year-old Filipino has crisp wushu and Muay Thai, and has been polishing his grappling skills under the careful eye of Team Lakay’s head coach Mark Sangiao.
The former champ knows Pacio is a formidable opponent, but he feels positive about snagging the win and starting his comeback on solid footing.
“I have a lot of respect for my opponent and I know it will be a tough fight. There will be some problem-solving that I will be doing during the fight, and I am confident that I will come away victorious,” Amnuaysirichoke states.
“For me, there isn’t any added pressure. I am always determined to perform at my very best in every fight. Each fight now is an important step towards challenging for the title, so this one isn’t any different.“
Amnuaysirichoke’s first important step on his martial arts journey happened when he was nine-years-old, when he watched Muay Thai with his father at the neighbor’s house. He instantly fell in love with the sport, so much so that he kicked a rice sack filled with sand at home and trained with his friends at a local sala.
In the decade to follow, he went from kicking sand-filled rice sacks in his small village home in Trang to knocking out opponents in Bangkok’s prestigious Lumpinee Stadium, eventually becoming a three-time Lumpinee champion.
Though Amnuaysirichoke was a talented and decorated Muay Thai champion, it is the philosophies of martial arts that have shaped his life and career.
“Martial arts is not about fighting or competition,” he says. “It builds a person’s character and teaches focus, discipline, respect, responsibility, and sportsmanship. It has helped me immensely.“
His sharp and aggressive style led the modern-day legend known as “Fierce Eyes” to major international fights in Malaysia and Japan. Eventually, it also led to his next career stop in Singapore, where he was practicing and teaching Muay Thai at Evolve MMA.
Soon after arriving at the Singaporean mega gym, he became enthralled with this developing sensation called mixed martial arts. “
“When I first came to Evolve MMA, I did not think about trying MMA. But after seeing the world champions here and learning about other martial arts such as BJJ, I became interested, and wanted to take up this new challenge,” he admits.
“It was difficult at first because there were lots of complex moves and techniques to learn on the ground. It was a challenge, but it was fun, and I got the hang of it after a while. Muay Thai clinches helped me learn the ground skills a bit.”
Thus far, Amnuaysirichoke has been very successful in this new challenge. He debuted in 2014 and won four straight bouts, two via knockout and the other two by submission. In his fifth fight, at ONE: WARRIOR’S QUEST in May 2015, he defeated former PBF Super Flyweight Champ Roy Doliguez to claim the inaugural ONE Strawweight World Championship. He also became the sport’s first Thai-born MMA World Champion.
“Of course I was very proud and happy to have conquered such a great challenge and reached a goal of mine,” he says. “I was extremely proud to be the first Thai MMA World Champion.“
The reign was short-lived, however. Following a successful title defense over Yago Bryan, he ran into Naito at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS and lost the belt.
Now, nearly ten months removed from that fateful night, Amnuaysirichoke is determined to redeem himself. But he is not the only person who wants a title rematch with the strawweight king called Nobita.
Like his Thai counterpart, Pacio’s only career loss comes at the hands of Naito. The Japanese strawweight kingpin successfully defended the prestigious championship against Pacio at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS last October, and despite frustrating the champ in the first two stanzas, he succumbed to the same rear-naked choke submission that put out Amnuaysirichoke.
Both competitors are looking for a rematch with Naito, so this upcoming fight carries title implications and will move the victor one step closer to their primary objective. For Amnuaysirichoke, he believes a win over Pacio is the next logical step of his martial arts journey.
“In the short term, I am focused on my fight in Bangkok. I am looking forward to returning, and cannot wait to win for Thailand,” the national hero states. “In the long term, I want to win back the ONE title, and defend it multiple times.”