He will be making his prime-time debut in mixed martial arts (MMA) next month, but just three years ago, Benedict Ang was more thug than fighter.
Reeling from his mother's sudden death, he turned to beating up others in school and lost interest in classes, to the point where he was almost expelled.
On the verge of slipping into being a full-fledged gangster, the then 15-year-old had his interest piqued - and his life changed - when a friend off-handedly mentioned the One Fighting Championship.
Watching videos of the burgeoning Asian MMA company's events, the teenager discovered an arena where punches and kicks were legal.
From then on, he never got into another fight outside a ring.
"I went to check out the Evolve Gym and tried some muay thai and wrestling. I realised I enjoyed throwing people around," the Republic Polytechnic (RP) student said with a disarming smile.
Ang even pulled out of the National Football Academy, where he was regarded as a promising striker, to focus on MMA.
A walking contradiction of sorts, the youngster's soft-spoken nature and love of Dragon Ball cartoons mask a fierce competitor driven to learn every aspect of the sport from his instructors at Evolve.
He picked Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Leandro Issa's brain about the finer points of grappling, while American Olympian Heath Sims taught him the intricacies of wrestling.
"Benedict is constantly asking questions and wants to know the smallest details," said Sims, who has also mentored MMA icons Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen.
"He has well-rounded skills but most importantly, it's his dedication that impresses me."
In fact, Ang's coaches have had to curb his enthusiasm ahead of his One FC debut against Pakistani featherweight Waqar Umar at the Indoor Stadium on May 22.
The promotion's first student-athlete, Ang's daily routine revolves around shuttling between his Hougang home, where he lives with his father and two younger brothers, to RP's Woodlands campus, and finally to Evolve's main branch in the city.
"This kid doesn't want to rest - if he could stay in the gym overnight, I'd bet he would," said One FC lightweight fighter Eddie Ng, who was Ang's first mentor.
After successfully trying out for Evolve's competition team in February last year, Ang has strung together four amateur victories.
In December, the southpaw beat fellow local Sim Kai Xiong to claim the Singapore Fighting Championship featherweight title.
The stakes will be raised when he faces Umar in front of an expected - and expectant - crowd of 8,000. His opponent was knocked out in his last One FC fight last November by the devastating elbows of Singaporean Amir Khan.
"I want to... no... I have to finish him off in style to show people what I am capable of," Ang, who turned 19 on Thursday, said with a determined glare.
He watched his first fight here two years ago when Ng gave him tickets to catch a One FC bout as a birthday present.
Now, it will be Ang's turn to entertain, in a card headlined by a lightweight championship clash between Japanese stars Shinya Aoki and Koji Ando.
He said: "For the first time in my life, I have a goal I know I really want, which is to turn pro.
"I fight for a purpose now."
This article was first published on Apr 5, 2015.
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