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ONE 158: Kwon Won Il aims to make his parents proud through martial arts

South Korean details his long journey from childhood trouble to his upcoming grudge match at Singapore Indoor Stadium on June 3.

"Pretty Boy" Kwon Won Il is one of the hardest working athletes on the ONE Championship roster.

The South Korean MMA fighter's work rate, dedication, and will to succeed have led him to a remarkable 11-3 professional record. Also, it has made him one of the most exciting competitors in the promotion's bantamweight division. 

As the Seoul native prepares for a tough battle against Fabricio "Wonder Boy" Andrade at ONE 158 on Friday, June 3, he will always remember the sacrifices his parents made in order for him to achieve tremendous success in his career.

"Now, my energy comes from my family," the 26-year-old said.

"My mother now prepares huge meals for me ahead of big matches to make sure I get all the energy I need. My father's the quiet type, but he watches all of my matches and encourages me often."

Like many other martial artists, Kwon experienced hardship during his childhood. And it was his parents who helped him out of his darkest days. 

Kwon quickly established himself as one of the top taekwondo practitioners in his elementary school, but his love for the sport drifted away as the years passed by.

As a result, "Pretty Boy" lacked an outlet to channel his energy, and ultimately, it led to fighting with other students.

The situation at his high school further intensified, forcing the principal to call Kwon's parents to tell them that their child had to transfer to another school.

With that, Kwon's father decided to send his son to a school in Hwajeong, which was located hundreds of miles north of Seoul. On the way there, "Pretty Boy" reflected on his actions.

"It was a long drive, and it gave me a chance to do a lot of thinking," he recalled.

"I realized that my actions had a direct impact on my parents. I realized it was time for me to do something to have a positive impact on them."

Kwon's dad rented a place for his son, where he lived alone and dedicated himself to school.

There, "Pretty Boy" surrounded himself with like-minded friends, which slowly allowed him to gain a fresh perspective on life.

"I immediately started to turn things around in my life. Back in Daejeon, my friends and I were only interested in fooling around, but my new classmates all knew what they wanted to do with their lives," he shared.

For Kwon, he realized martial arts had always been a passion and something he was successful at, so he wanted to recapture that childhood magic. Fortunately, he discovered the Extreme Combat MMA gym, went to the facility, and poured his heart into training.

The South Korean had to work two jobs to pay for his training, but with his focus solely on finding an outlet to succeed, there was no stopping him.

"I was really tired – both physically and mentally – when I got to the gym in the evenings after work, but I was determined to rise higher and make my parents feel proud of me," he said.

At 19 years old, he traveled to Japan to make his professional MMA debut against Hirotaka Miyakawa – an athlete who had already amassed 19 fights to his name – at a DEEP event. It would only take him 36 seconds to get the TKO victory.

After chalking up a 4-0 record, Kwon joined ONE Championship in 2019. 

Though he experienced mixed results in his rookie year with the organization, "Pretty Boy" has officially come into his own. He is riding a three-bout winning streak, holds the No. 2 contender's spot in the division, and recently knocked out former ONE bantamweight world champion Kevin Belingon with a body shot.

At ONE 158, he meets Andrade, another knockout artist who the South Korean has been exchanging heated words with over social media.

But if Kwon were to defeat the surging Brazilian, then he believes he would get a crack at reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion John Lineker.

"If I were to win this match, the next title shot will be mine and no one else's," he said.

"And if I were to make another request, I want to make a request to ONE Championship. I really hope to have the championship match here in Korea, maybe sometime during the holidays."

That would be the perfect gift to his parents, who would undoubtedly be proud to see their "Pretty Boy" challenge for ONE world title gold in their home country.