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Meet Korea's Adaptive (and Undefeated) MMA Fighter

Fightland Blog

By James Goyder

It’s not easy to win fights as a professional mixed martial artist. You have to master the arts of striking, grappling and wrestling and then overcome an opponent who is likely to have studied each discipline extensively themselves. It’s a big challenge for anyone but for athletes suffering from some sort of physical disadvantage it becomes a task of Herculean proportions.

That didn’t stop Nick Newell from reaching the very top of the WSOF lightweight ladder during his competitive career and a Korean featherweight is looking to have a similar impact. Won Jun Jang was born without any fingers or thumbs on his right hand but it hasn’t stopped him from running up a 3-0 pro record with one of the country’s biggest promotions.

This congenital defect clearly puts him at a disadvantage against his opponents. But conversely he says he would never have taken up martial arts in the first place had it not been for his right hand,

“When I was young my friends would tease me. I felt as though people were staring at my hand instead of me when we talked and it made me feel uncomfortable.  I first started doing martial arts in fourth grade because of all the taunting and teasing. I told my dad about the bullying and he had me do Taekwondo.”

Jang was not content just to train as a hobby. He wanted to test himself at a competitive level and wasn’t deterred by the people who told him he would never succeed,

“When I first started MMA I worked a part time job and my coworker told me I'd never make it.  He said that he had friends that were doing it and it was too hard.  He said I would quit.”

He trains at Korean Top Team in Seoul, a camp which has three fighters on the current UFC roster. Head coach Dongjin Ha admits that when Jang first walked through the door he assumed that it was just to train for fun rather than to pursue serious fighting ambitions,

“At first I thought he wasn’t a professional fighter and had just come to the gym to train. I was very surprised by him and he is 3-0 now. He still has lots to learn but I see a lot of potential in him as a fighter,” said the coach.

While the defective right hand might not stop Jang from fighting it definitely doesn’t help. The 28-year-old outlines some of the problems he has to work around as follows,

“I can punch with my right hand but it hurts when I do, so I use my left hand more. It’s a disadvantage because what should be my strongest hand is my bad hand. In wrestling and BJJ it’s hard because I can't grip with both hands.”

MMA encompasses so many different styles and techniques that the depth of knowledge required to even start out in the sport is immense. For Jang the learning process was particularly challenging because, as well as taking on board all this new information, he had to find a way to make it work despite his congenital defect,

“In the beginning everything was hard but I learned over time to adapt and use just one hand.  I've gotten real good now even though I only can use one hand to grab and to grasp my arms together for chokes and takedowns. “

His first two fights went the distance but in his most recent bout, at Top FC 9, Jang finished his opponent by first round TKO. It means he’s already spent around half an hour inside the cage and the 28 year old feels he learned a valuable lesson from going the distance a couple of times at the start of his pro career,

“I felt like my skill level was low because it went to decision so I decided to work harder and get better so that next time I could win decisively.”

When his Father took him to that first Taekwondo lesson he could never have imagined that the boy who was being bullied at school would become a professional fighter. Martial arts was merely intended to instill some much needed self confidence in Jang and he says his decision to compete in the cage did not initially go down too well with his parents,

“They don't like it. They have always been against it for obvious reasons but now that I am succeeding they are slowly starting to come around and support me.”

Korean Top Team launched the career of Chan Sung Jung and has a solid record when it comes to sending fighters to the UFC. With the world’s premier MMA organization set to put on an event in Seoul for the first time this weekend Jang is already setting his sights on an eventual Octagon appearance,

“If my skill level is good enough and I prove myself maybe one day I can fight in the UFC.  It is my dream.”

Jang took up Taekwondo because he didn’t like the way other people were making him feel but his mentality has completely changed since he became a professional mixed martial artist. Now he’s the master of his own emotions and nothing makes him feel better than winning an MMA fight,

“When I win I felt like I conquered the world, I felt great.  Nothing can compare to the feeling.”

 

Check out these related stories:

Rolling for Respect: How Brazil's First Parajiujitsu Tournament Levels the Playing Field

Always the Underdog: Recalling the Skills of 'Notorious' Nick Newell

Garret Holeve Is Fighting for Adaptive Athletes

 

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