Han Yi-Moon may not be a name commonly used in international MMA prospect talk, but the 20-year old Korean is already a household name in his own country. After winning Season 2 of XTM’s MMA reality competition television show, he worked his way to a main card feature shot on March 9th’s ROAD FC – Korea 2.
Han’s game is a work in progress, with three of his last four straight wins by decision. The level of his opponents have been evenly matched given his greenness, but he’s shown a spark that hints at something brighter in his future. Han possesses a toughness that might be mistaken for foolishness. He might rush in to make mistakes, but he learns and visibly evolves from each match.
In other words, Han’s a young fighter to watch out for in the coming year. Given the pressure cooker of reality TV that gave him his first taste of MMA competition, he’s also an interesting result of the new “mainstream” appeal that MMA has in Korea. MMA-in-ASIA spoke with Ham ahead of his fight with PANCRASE fighter Ryo Takagi about his TV experience, his take on MMA as the “new” generation of fighters, and what are his future goals.
MMA-in-ASIA: Why did you start training MMA?
Han: The first time I started training was when I was 16. I just followed my friends to training. I had a few amateur competitions, but I never thought I’d be a pro MMA fighter at that time. My coach, Park Jun-Oh, recommended me to the Crying Fist show, but they didn’t take me because I looked too much like a boy. But at that time, the broadcast finished really early because many people got knocked out, so they needed more contestants. My coach recommended me again, but the producer still didn’t respect me because of my looks. But then I upset all of the other contestants.
MMA-in-ASIA: How many wins did you have on the show?
Han: It was a 16-seed tournament, so I fought totally four times. In the semifinals I lost to Kim Dae-Myung, but he broke his hand in the fight so I went to the finals.
MMA-in-ASIA: It’s rare to have an MMA debut on television. What was the feeling like?
Han: I felt confused. Many people knew about me because of the show. I just felt kind of confused.
MMA-in-ASIA: Is fighting your future? Will you go to university?
Han: I will keep training MMA. My goal is to be the ROAD FC Bantamweight Champion. I will try to get into university. If I do get in, it will delay my military service so I can keep on fighting right now.
MMA-in-ASIA: How would you describe your style? What do you think is your biggest area you need to improve?
Han: Most important, it depends on my opponent. In Gladiator, I was knocked out really quickly. At that time, I didn’t care much about striking, I was trying to make a grappling style, but actually I’m a natural striker. Like a mad dog!
MMA-in-ASIA: What is your plan for this upcoming match against Ryo?
Han: I will beat him very clearly.
MMA-in-ASIA: You have many decisions. Do you want finishes, or is this all a part of your growing experience?
Han: Of course, I’m just growing still. Every time I want to knock out my opponent. In my last fight in Gumi, I was really disappointed in myself because I didn’t finish.
MMA-in-ASIA: Who are some of your idols?
Han: Actually, there’s not one special one. There are so many great fighters. I admire the strong points of many fighters.
MMA-in-ASIA: You are part of the “new generation” who grew up watching UFC. In your eyes, is MMA a mainstream sport?
Han: I think MMA has developed very quickly, still many people think of it as martial arts, not really a sport.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do your parents support you?
Han: When I started training, I never told them. But when I was on TV, automatically my family knew! And from then, they stood by me.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have a big family?
Han: My parents and a younger brother.
MMA-in-ASIA: Does your younger brother look up to you?
MMA-in-ASIA: Are you recognised in the street because of Crying Fist?
Han: Well, I wear this hat everywhere so I don’t know if they recognise me! But when I search the Internet, there’s a lot of talk about me. People don’t like me because they thought my character on the show was arrogant. But I’m not really like that.
MMA-in-ASIA: What are your hobbies outside of MMA?
Han: Eating, traveling, hanging out with friends.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you like to eat?
Han: Food. (Laughs)
MMA-in-ASIA: You have a very long career ahead of you. What are your plans?
Han: I know I’m young. I started in Young Guns and I made it to the Korea league. I want to stay in this league and face many strong fighters. I want to have many matches with good fighters so I can learn and figure out how to make myself better.
MMA-in-ASIA: Will you stay at bantamweight?
Han: I think this is the right weight for me right now.
MMA-in-ASIA: Are there any people you’d like to acknowledge for their support?
Han: First of all, thanks to ROAD FC for giving me the chance. Thanks to my parents for supporting me, and especially Coach Park. MMA has made me grow, so I am really thankful for everyone who has helped me to know MMA.