Asia has been producing heaps of MMA talents over the past decade or so, with several fighters carrying on to accomplish remarkable feats within the industry.
And one such combatant who has been tipped to follow in their footsteps is none other than Phuket Top Team’s Yang Seung Ho (6-0).
Tommy Yang Seung Ho: “If I take you down, you got to know how to get back up.”
Better known as ‘Tommy’ within the Asian region, the 23-year-old first made a name for himself in the Mixed Martial Arts scene at a tender age of 16, when he marked his professional debut with 2 wins in Pancrase’s 2007 Korea Neo-Blood Tournament.
The South Korean’s accomplishments in such a short time has been commendable. Along with a Bronze medal at the Abu Dhabi World BJJ Tournament, Yang holds a myriad of titles; most notably including the Martial Combat Championship, Copa Alfa Barra BJJ Tournament Championship and of course, the aforementioned Pancrase Tournament Championship.
MMASucka.com was privileged to score an interview with one of South Korea’s finest Mixed Martial Artists, and Yang was kind enough to oblige and open up to us.
He started off by talking about his favorite fighter growing up, and interestingly, he had a unique choice.
Most fighters or fans for that matter, would have idolized the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Kazushi Sakuraba or Fedor Emelianenko among others because of their sheer dominance in the now defunct PRIDE organization. ‘Tommy’, on the other hand, had a former Hero’s, DREAM and Strikeforce veteran in mind before realizing his MMA dream:
“Back in Hero’s and DREAM, there was this fighter called Gesias ‘JZ’ Calvalcante. The guy used to be my idol. I really liked his style. He had heavy hands and he’ll always be going for a knockout. I liked that.”
Following his departure from Evolve MMA in Singapore, Yang joined the Tiger Muay Thai ranks in a short stint, where he had the opportunity to work with the likes of Ray Elbe and JJ Ambrose. The latter, a veteran and a current competitor in Bellator, continues to train with Yang till this day.
The young South Korea native found himself travelling around the globe in hopes of improving his all-round MMA game. Having trained with the likes of the UFC’s Antonio Braga Neto in San Francisco, California, Tommy now primarily applies his trade at Phuket Top Team, one of the leading and most respected MMA gyms in the region:
“Phuket Top Team is a pretty amazing camp. The quality of training is very high and there are a lot of high-level, intense fighters over there, ” he started. “They’re very strict on their diets, and they’re very strict with their minds to train for fights. So I’m always learning a lot from them, you know, and I try to see what benefits me when it comes to dieting and my training.”
According to Yang, he has had 14 fights to date. And with a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to go along with his ever-improving MMA repertoire, it’s no secret where the 23-year-old fancies his fights to go to.
“I’ve fought in amateur, semi-pro and pro. Altogether, I’m 13-1. Most of the time, I like to use Jiu-Jitsu against my opponents, ” Yang said confidently. “You know, like wrestle, BJJ; I like to finish on the ground. I just fought a few months ago in February in Kuwait, at Gladiator Fighting Championship. And I won the fight by taking him down and finishing him on the ground.”
In recent times, coaches from Phuket Top Team have crossed over to Juggernaut Fight Club in Singapore to share their knowledge, expertise and experiences. Tommy Yang was privileged to be one of them, although he did admit that it’s not an easy task to be an active fighter and a coach at the same time.
“It’s very difficult to be a fighter and a coach at the same time, ” he admitted. “I think it’s hard to set up your mind. Like if you don’t really care about your class or what you’re teaching, you won’t be tired. But I really care and sometimes I get stress out of it. It’s very difficult because when I teach, I don’t feel comfortable training at the same time.”
Furthermore, having spent almost a half a decade in Singapore, Tommy firmly believes that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is developing by leaps and bounds in the country. It may be overshadowed, however, by the likes of Boxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo and many other traditional Martial Arts, but Tommy thinks that BJJ is bound to be right up there sooner or later:
“4 years ago when I came to Singapore, there were people training but only in like 5 gyms. The BJJ level at that time was really low, ” he recalled. “They didn’t even have Singapore tournaments or anything. But now, wow. It’s really high. And now, there are a lot of good guys here.”
“I think they should open their minds. In Singapore, there are lots of gyms that have closed minds. They’re like, ‘we’re the best so we don’t want to mix it up with you guys.’ Or they have competitions but they’re not talking about it or spreading the word. I think they should just open their minds on setting up more tournaments and stuff.”
He also gave his thoughts in teaching up-and-coming Singaporean fighters. And just like every other country in the world though, he felt that the talents vary:
“I’ve been to a lot of different countries and there are always different talents. Like some guys catch-up very fast, while others are slow,” he pointed out. “I can show an Armbar but not everybody will get it right the first time. It’s the same in Singapore. We recently had try-outs at JFC and from there we had 3 different fighters who are very hungry; I mean they are ready to train.”
If you’re an avid fan of Mixed Martial Arts, you’d probably know that wrestling is the most important facet of modern-day Mixed Martial Arts. ‘Tommy’, on the other hand, insisted that fighters should have a balance between wrestling and BJJ altogether, although he did articulate more emphasis on the latter skill:
“MMA is not only about wrestling or grappling, you know, ” he continued. “Even if you’re a good striker or grappler, once I take you down, you got to know how to get back up. You need have a lot of different moves on the ground so that a fighter will be able to keep his opponent on the ground, or stand back up. BJJ is part of MMA.”
“Whether you like to wrestle or do BJJ, well, it depends on the fighter. There is a need for balance, ” he added. “Wrestling is also a big part of MMA as well, so I think that’s why both skills are really important in MMA today.”
So how do you react when you’re a wanted man in the UFC? Well just ask ‘Tommy’ Yang.
Despite having only 6 fights on his resume, the rumor mill was churning with stories that his unscathed record actually garnered the attention of the Ultimate Fighting Championship – the prestigious playground for fighters to showcase their skills. Tommy acknowledged those rumors and said there were indeed talks with the promotion, but admitted that a contract with ONE Fighting Championship had to be fulfilled first:
“I’d love to go, it’s my dream, ” he said, smiling. “But I still have a contract with ONE FC. The contract was exclusive and it was for 3 years. I think I have a year left on the contract. “
With that said, the 23-year-old is expected to make his promotional ONE FC debut in the near future and when prompted for a possible date and venue, Tommy was unsure.
“Now, actually, we have some plans with ONE FC, ” Yang hinted. “August or September could be possible.”
“I already know my opponent and all I need to do now is sign the paper. I heard I was supposed to be fighting in Hong Kong or something, but I honestly don’t know.”
Tommy Yang may not be known to everyone in the MMA community right now but should he make an appearance with either ONE FC or the UFC in the near future, fans may very well jump on his bandwagon if he does indeed make it to the upper echelon of his weight class. And well.. judging from his style of fighting and what not, it won’t be long before he makes it there.
At just 23-years-old, Yang has already established himself as one of the top MMA fighters out of South Korea. And if his progression continues to sky-rocket forward, Tommy will be a force to be reckoned with in the Lightweight division.