Asian MMA

Ok Rae Yoon Recalls Early Career Struggles Before ONE Fight Night 23 Return

Image for Ok Rae Yoon Recalls Early Career Struggles Before ONE Fight Night 23 Return

Ok Rae Yoon burst onto the ONE Championship scene like a lightning bolt. He quickly picked up wins and became the ONE Lightweight MMA World Champion. The quickness also meant fans needed more time to get to know his story.

After losing his gold back to Christian Lee, he is restarting his journey nd he is getting a chance to tell his tale before welcoming unbeaten Alibeg Rasulov to the organization at ONE Fight Night 23. Always having a passion for sports, Ok surprisingly shunned the gym until it became a pathway as a pro.

“I never was too interested in hitting the gym for my exercises. I always preferred other sports. Of course, now I hit the weights more to enhance my abilities and conditioning for MMA performance. But when I was younger, I never felt the desire to hit the gym. Instead, I wondered whether there were new sports I could get into,” Ok detailed to ONE.

While enlisted in the army, Ok got his first taste of MMA. The soldiers would gather together to watch the sport and bond. Getting to see the sport as an adult sparked a love for what would become a successful career.

At 23, Ok decided to try his hand at the sport. He began training just out of love for the sport. Soon, the idea of testing himself in a live match became too tempting to pass up.

“At that age, becoming a professional athlete seemed way too late. I really believed becoming a professional athlete was not an option for me. So I committed to my MMA training as a hobby while studying in school. I would train at night after classes. After about four or five months of training, maybe because I was generally quite athletic and picking up the skills quite fast, I wanted to try competing,” Ok said.

If anyone thought it was an instant success story, they would be wrong. The South Korean failed in his first attempt. However, that failure only drove him to continue his quest for knowledge of martial arts.

“I went for my first amateur fight and lost quite quickly from an armbar. I knew that I had lost not because I was a poor athlete, but because I was not skilled enough. I really wanted to win in an amateur fight, so I trained extremely hard for my second fight. Because of this, I competed again, and again,” the former ONE Lightweight MMA World Champion remarked.

Ok would soon begin succeeding in competition, but it wouldn’t immediately turn into a lucrative career. The early days of his career were filled with trials that would test him mentally as much as physically. Ok detailed how an injury early on in his career was his toughest test outside the gym.

“Even after you turn professional, you don’t earn that much money in your first few fights, not enough to make a living. I had to take on other jobs on the side to make ends meet. There was this one time when I was competing in China. I broke my hand during the fight and had to undergo surgery. It took me many months to recover after the surgery. During that time, I couldn’t do anything: I couldn’t train and I couldn’t work to earn money. The financial stress and uncertainty for the future then was very bad. They were some dark times,” Ok recalled.

Those are the types of hardships that have made Ok the elite competitor he has become. The South Korean has used that as inspiration to overcome and achieve the highest success. It is something he hopes to continue at ONE Fight Night 24 and once again defy expectations.

“I’ve been an underdog for most of my career at ONE Championship. I’ve faced top competition, and every time, I’ve proved people wrong. I will be fighting an elite competitor once again, and as always, I want to surprise people and exceed expectations. People can make predictions, but I will continue to win. I ask the ONE fans for their love and support as I do this. I will make it back to the title,” Ok said.

ONE Fight Night 23 airs live on Prime Video on Friday, July 5. The action begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. The event is free for all Amazon Prime subscribers based in the U.S. and Canada.

Share this article

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.