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Han is the man with a Muay Thai plan

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-09-10 09:32

From truculent playground bully to a Muay Thai champ who makes his parents proud, Han Zihao has defied long odds in making his presence felt in one of world's fiercest combat sports.

Energized by a large and boisterous crowd at Saturday's One: Beyond the Horizon at Shanghai's Baoshan Arena, the 22-year-old Henan native demonstrated his precise and ferocious striking skills in a three-round unanimous decision over Stergos Mikkios of Greece.

It was just his second fight in One Championship's Super Series.

"I just want to show the world that a Chinese can punch his way to the top in Muay Thai, which has long been dominated by native Thai fighters," said Han, who dropped out of school at age 11 to start practicing sanda-the Chinese version of kickboxing-full time in his home city of Zhoukou.

Boasting strength and agility beyond his years, Han soon caught the eye of a major Chinese Muay Thai club in Guangdong province. After getting permission from Han's parents, the club owner sent him to a gym in Bangkok when he was only 14, and with no clue of how grueling Muay Thai training could be.

"My thought was as long as I didn't have to go back to school, any choice was a good choice," said Han, who has spent most of the past eight years training and surviving in the highly-competitive environment in Thailand.

Without a single word of Thai in his vocabulary, he picked up the language by listening to the daily conversation among local fighters at the gym. And he honed his Muay Thai skills through sheer determination to fight his way out of poverty.

After almost two years of hard training that sometimes lasted seven hours a day, Han earned his first 1,000 baht payday (about $30) after squaring off against a man almost twice his age. He used his winnings to buy a bed from a flea market after months of sleeping on the floor of the gym.

"In addition to training as hard as the Thais did, I had to do all the cleaning as I was one of the very few trainees boarding at the gym," said Han. "The local kids went back home to their parents after training, while I stayed almost alone."

Now with the One Super Series providing a platform and steady paychecks, Han has set sights on becoming the most recognized Muay Thai fighter from China.

"I believe I can make it not only myself, but my family, my friends and my country proud," he said after Saturday's victory, which moved him closer to One Super Series world title contention.

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