Bokang "Little Giant" Masunyane (8-0) has lived a life full of challenges. As a result, the word "quit" simply does not exist in his dictionary.
The 5-foot-1 Johannesburg native had to overcome tremendous adversity on his path to stardom in ONE Championship, but his strength, positive attitude, and dogged determination have propelled him into the top-ranked strawweight MMA fighter in the promotion. And now, he is one victory away from getting a crack at his division's world championship belt.
Masunyane is scheduled to fight No. 2-ranked strawweight Jarred "The Monkey God" Brooks (18-2) at the "ONE: Eersel vs. Sadikovic" card on Friday, and a win over the American will earn him the next shot at Joshua "The Passion" Pacio's ONE strawweight world title.
"As much as I have respect for all the fighters in my division, I just believe I have something special to become the world champion," the 27-year-old said. "And I'm definitely the hardest guy any of these guys in my weight (class) will ever compete against."
Masunyane's self-confidence has always carried him through, even during his childhood when the future appeared seemingly bleak.
When "Little Giant" was just 2 years old, his mother – the family's sole breadwinner – passed away. He and his three older siblings were then forced to move from Lesotho – an enclaved country situated in the middle of South Africa – to Johannesburg to live with his aunt.
Unfortunately, things didn't get any better. His aunt struggled to earn enough money to take care of both her children and the Masunyane kids, and by the time "Little Giant" was six years old, he was placed in an orphanage with his siblings.
Despite the circumstances, Masunyane somehow managed to stay positive. And fortunately for him, he found the right outlet to alleviate his stress.
"I excelled at a lot of sports. I enjoyed playing soccer. I've enjoyed doing athletics, and I did a bit of gymnastics every now and then," he said. "But there was so much variety within the orphanage which you could choose, and I found my passion in wrestling."
Oddly enough, a mishap on the playground led him to the grappling art.
"I was playing on a jungle gym with one of my friends, and one of the other kids said something to him. I honestly don't remember what he said, but he triggered me because my natural instinct was to protect my friend from harm," Masunyane added.
"The guy then kicked my friend, so I threw him off the jungle gym, jumped all the way down, sat on his chest, and started punching him. My cousin stopped me and told me, ‘No, you shouldn't fight. It's not good for you. You should try joining wrestling because you are very strong for a small boy.' And that's how I started my wrestling journey."
Masunyane proved to be a natural on the wrestling mats. In fact, he amassed 23 national titles, three African Championships, and also earned a spot on South Africa's Commonwealth Games wrestling team in 2014.
Though he achieved tremendous success, the 5-foot-1 beast realized he couldn't make a steady living as a wrestler in the African country. However, he soon fell in love with MMA and knew he could apply his polished grappling skills to the all-encompassing combat sport.
Evidently, he was right.
Masunyane went 4-0 on the amateur circuit, and when he turned pro in December 2016, he continued to decimate his competition. He has since compiled an 8-0 record in the professional ranks, which includes his most recent 37-second head kick knockout of former ONE world title challenger Rene Catalan.
And should he defeat Brooks at "ONE: Eersel vs. Sadikovic," then he'll be one step away from achieving his dream.
"From the fact that I was able to make it into ONE, I now believe that it's possible for me to become a world champion in ONE and be considered as one of the best fighters in the world," he said. "And that's what I'm aiming for."
There is one more thing on Masunyane's radar that is equally important.
The South African remembers what it was like growing up without his parents and experiencing loneliness at the orphanage, so he hopes his story and career will inspire other children who find themselves in a similar situation.
"I really still have a soft heart for kids at the orphanage because I've been through that struggle and that feeling of being left out of the world, that feeling of wanting to be a part of something," he said. "And I believe ONE Championship has given me the opportunity to become a part of something big in the world."