Chinese striker Han Zi Hao has only competed for ONE Super Series twice, but he has already marked himself out as a crowd-pleasing talent and one to watch.
The 23-year-old makes his third appearance in ONE Championship’s striking league when he faces Ryan “The Filipino Assassin” Jakiri at ONE: PURSUIT OF GREATNESS in Yangon, Myanmar on 26 October.
The Top King Muay Thai World Champion is keen to showcase even more of his skills at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in his latest bout for the organisation.
Han grew up in Lizhai, a small town in the central province of Henan, China, where his parents worked long hours to make ends meet. Their time away from the family home meant Han often felt lonely.
“I didn’t like to stay at home much when I was young. My parents worked all day, and I didn’t see them often,” he explains.
“I spent most of my time running to my grandparents’ house after school because they were always there waiting for me with their smiles, as well as delicious food.”
Han’s need for attention as a youngster meant he often found himself in trouble.
“I was very naughty,” he admits.
“In order to get adults to pay more attention to me, I did naughty things.”
His family later moved to the city where he struggled, both academically and socially, in his new school.
Han also faced more difficulty when the family moved to the city. He was bullied in his new school and found it hard to concentrate on his education, and subsequently struggled with his grades.
As a youngster, he remembers his father watching Chinese martial arts promotion Wu Lin Feng on Henan Television, and he became interested in martial arts as a result.
Because he was being bullied at school, he was even more determined to learn the skills he needed to could stand up to the bullies.
“At the time, I worshipped the athletes I saw standing on that stage,” he admits.
“Plus, my school grades were so bad, I just decided to go to a martial arts school, and I thought of a future where I would not let people bully me.”
He started out training the Chinese kickboxing art of sanda as a 12-year-old. Then, after two years of training, he was fascinated by the Thai stars competing in K-1, and decided to learn Muay Thai. He took to the discipline almost instantly.
“The first time I practised Thai boxing, I didn’t have too much difficulty because of the basic skills I already had. I adapted my skills in a few months,” he explains.
“My Thai boxing coach asked me to do something, and I did it – it wasn’t difficult. Maybe there was a talent for Muay Thai there, and I improved quickly.”
Han’s passion for Muay Thai took him to Thailand, where he set up home and furthered his training in Bangkok.
To start with, he slept on gym mats and lived on small portions of rice, but his determination to succeed meant his days of sleeping on the mats would not last long.
Living away from home, pursuing a tough career goal in a difficult sport, Han admits one of the biggest tests is keeping his head up and persevering when things get tough.
“The most difficult thing is persevering over the years. It requires a lot of willpower,” he says.
“There were times when I have been depressed and not wanted to do anything, but I just did my best to take care of myself, even though I didn’t really know how.
“I said to myself, ‘If you don’t want to be strong, just go home and stop practising.’ I encouraged myself and backed myself because sometimes the boring life made me lose my spirit.”
Han’s arrival in Bangkok saw his career take a dramatic turn upward. He launched into a professional career and battled against men over twice his age as he looked to establish himself. It worked, as he eventually achieved the Top King Muay Thai World Title.
He then went on to become the first Chinese athlete to compete in ONE Super Series, and now he hopes to follow up on his win over Stergos Mikkios and move up the ladder with another victory over Jakiri.
“I want to make myself better and stronger through ONE’s international stage,” he says.
“I just want to defeat Jakiri and defend my honour.”