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Kang Ji Won Looks Back At Early Days Ahead Of ONE Fight Night 16

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Kang Ji Won burst onto the ONE Championship in 2021 with stunning knockouts. However, he would run into a roadblock named Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida. Proving he was not going to take a backseat, Kang returned in 2022 with another highlight-reel KO over Paul Elliott.

Now ready to rejoin the title talk, Kang returns at ONE Fight Night 16 against Ben Tynan. Before he takes to the ring against the debuting Canadian, Kang reflected on his path toward MMA stardom. The South Korean reflected on his quiet upbringing.

Kang Ji Won Returns at ONE Fight Night 16, Reflects on Career Path

“I never really liked studying in school. Academics weren’t for me. I liked to be outside playing and running around, which is why I got into our sport. I started to exercise in high school to lose weight. I liked going to internet cafes to play games, but I think exercise and working out was a good fit for me, so I gravitated more toward it and got into it more and more,” Kang told ONE.

Unsurprisingly, Kang got his martial arts beginnings with taekwondo. The staple in South Korea helped spark the initial interest for the “Mighty Warrior,” but as he grew older, the allure of mixed martial arts began to capture Kang. He would soon discover his natural abilities for the sport and commit more time to training.

“Korean kids learn taekwondo. I was no different. I trained taekwondo as a child, so that was my first introduction to martial arts. I started mixed martial arts in my second year of high school [around 17 or 18]. I started off here at my gym, Wang Ho Academy,” Kang recalled.

As his high school days were nearing an end, the South Korean athlete began looking at his career options. Not wanting to follow the norm for others in the region, Kang doubled down. As he dipped his toes into the amateur ranks, the path toward a full-fledged career began taking shape.

“Geoje Island is known pretty much singularly for the shipbuilding industry and shipyards. I knew I didn’t want to become a shipbuilder and always enjoyed training MMA, so I went headfirst into training to become a full-time fighter. I started fighting in the amateur leagues in my last year of high school and fought a few fights after I completed my military service,” the “Mighty Warrior” said.

While he may have found success inside a ring or cage, Kang did not see it reflected in his bank account initially. To weather the early days in the sport, the “Mighty Warrior” had to rely on his family. Although reluctant about his choice to chase a dream, his family still gave him the support he needed to pursue his passion.

“I did a lot of part-time work [to get by]. I worked as a dishwasher in restaurants, and I received support from my family while I trained to make MMA my full-time career. They really didn’t like or support it at the start. They even tried to make me stop fighting. They didn’t like watching me get hurt, and I didn’t get paid enough to even pay for my hospital fees when I got injured or banged up during my fights,” Kang remarked.

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Kang was clear that money was not his primary objective in choosing MMA as his career. It was about doing what made him happy, which was not a 9-to-5 career. Becoming the best athlete possible was what drove him internally.

After turning pro, Kang’s victories caught the attention of ONE. Finally, on a global platform, the “Mighty Warrior” captivated fans with his raw power and crisp striking. Once he proved his choice to be a viable career, his parents finally came around to the idea that he made the right decision.

“I’d been on a three-fight winning streak, and my coach told me that I may have the chance to compete in ONE Championship. I knew that ONE Championship was a huge major league in the sport, so I was happy to get the offer. Once I joined ONE Championship and started earning more money and winning my performance bonuses, [my parents] started to show their support,” Kang stated.

Ahead of his next bout, Kang remembers all of the support he received. The hardships are not lost on him now that he has been one of the most entertaining heavyweight sluggers in the sport. And with that support system around him, he hopes to put himself in a position to challenge for heavyweight gold.

“I also received a lot of help from those close to me. It’s thanks to them that I was able to make it to where I am today. If you surround yourself with good people who care about you and do your best at what you want to do, good days eventually will find you,” Kang said.

ONE Fight Night 16 airs live on Friday, November 3. The action begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Prime Video. The event is free for all Amazon Prime subscribers based in the U.S. and Canada.

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Jeremy Brand is an experienced MMA writer and columnist. He is the founder of, and has represented the company with media credentials at many mixed martial arts fights. Jeremy is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, training in BC, Canada.

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