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Zhang Peimian's journey to global stage with ONE: 'I will prove myself and repay my parents'

The teen kickboxing phenom emerged from humble beginnings and will look to continue climbing at ONE 159.

Zhang Peimian's humble beginnings have not stopped him from achieving success in combat sports.

Instead, the Chinese phenom – who returns in a strawweight kickboxing clash against Russian star Aslanbek Zikreev at ONE 159 on Friday – took motivation from his childhood and worked hard to turn the tables for his family.

Now competing in the world's largest martial arts organization, "Fighting Rooster" has a massive platform to impress the global fan base and cement himself as one of the best strikers on the planet. 

Here's how the 18-year-old prodigy worked his way from rural China to The Home of Martial Arts. 

Childhood in a peasant farming family

Zhang grew up with his parents, older brother, and younger sister in the south of China. Although they didn't have much in the way of material wealth, he recalls a fun and loving upbringing spent outdoors. 

"I was born in a peasant family in a small village in Hepu, Guangxi, but I have a lovely family," he said. "In my childhood, we helped our family to do farm work. I had a unique way of experiencing happiness with my friends, such as [taking eggs from] a bird's nest, catching fishes in the ditch, foraging for berries, raising game fowl, and so on." 

The teenager admits he was not the most studious child, but he still enjoyed school – and it was there that he met the man who would kick-start his road to kickboxing stardom.

"I was not outstanding in my study, but I was popular," Zhang said. "I have good memories from when I was a student, whether with my classmates or teachers. Besides, my coach was my head teacher (school principal)."

Dedicating himself to training

Zhang had no real interest in martial arts until his school principal introduced him to kickboxing when he was around 11 years old – and he wasn't a natural, either. But as soon as he pulled on the gloves, the youngster instantly fell in love and wanted to commit all of his time to his new endeavor.

"Before I first tried martial arts, I only knew kung fu movies. I had no idea what kickboxing was. When coach first brought me to practice in the sixth grade, I found that [the basic strikes] were beyond my comprehension," Zhang said.  "But once I got into the sport, I found my interest. To improve faster, I spent less time playing with my friends and devoted myself to training. Every afternoon right after class, I went to practice."

Having a respected member of the community as his coach also meant that "Fighting Rooster's" parents never objected. Instead, they backed their young son and watched with pride as he dedicated himself to improving.

"My parents always supported me very much because the coach was also my head teacher," Zhang said. "My parents did not have special requirements for me. They just asked me to be steadfast in everything I did, without regret."

Turning pro as a young teen

Thanks to his tireless work ethic, Zhang quickly garnered success as an amateur kickboxer. At the age 13 in 2016, he moved to Shengli Fight Club to train more seriously, before turning professional one year later, and while he was overmatched on paper in that debut appearance, "Fighting Rooster" overcame the odds to win by KO – starting his rapid ascent in the sport.

"My first professional fight was in Chengdu in October 2017. The opponent was an adult. I was young and small," Zhang said. "There was a big gap in height and weight, but I drove him into a corner with strikes and knocked him out. That's when I started to get noticed.

Though he was still a student, the Chinese phenom continued to pile as many hours into his craft as possible. And after graduating, he began training full-time and felt ready to battle the world's top strikers in ONE.

"If you have a dream, you must make a decision," Zhang proclaimed. "Now that I have graduated from high school, I'm unstoppable!"

Big dreams in ONE Championship

Zhang has made good on his promise so far, earning a spot on ONE Championship's main roster by winning a four-man Road to ONE tournament in his homeland. He then debuted with a stunning victory over former ONE strawweight kickboxing world title challenger Josh Tonna, and he plans to keep shooting for the stars. 

The young Chinese ace has the divisional belt in his sights, and with his mother, father, and coaches inspiring him to climb higher, he's hungry to fulfill that goal.

"My parents are my motivation," Zhang said. "I will prove myself and repay my parents for their parenting.

"The most important thing for me [was also having a] coach that always encouraged and supported me. I grew up and realized that I didn't get here by accident. It was the team that made me.

"I am always ready for [any challenge]. I am very excited to compete against the big players. I will beat Zikreev and go for the World Title challenge."

This story first published at ONEFC.com.