Choi Mu-Gyeom shot to the top of ROAD FC’s featherweight division as a relative unknown. Now as his history-making fourth defense of the title looms, he’s shockingly decided to go out on a high note.
Choi made the surprise announcement to retire after his title defense was booked for ROAD FC 50, 3 November. Though it came as a shock, he’d already thoroughly planned his exit.
“I think the important thing is that I made this decision with my family. I want to take a break, run my gym, marry my girlfriend and live happily ever after. In fact, my parents never wanted me to fight. My mother has never seen a match. They told me, when you first become champion, retire, but when I finally did, my father boasted that his son was a champion.
“I met my girlfriend Hyang-Gi in 2013. I was working at the gym really hard, and she would do things for me like go to the convenience store, get coffee – she paid for almost all of our dates. When I was in a slump she even helped me if I needed equipment.”
As a strong supporter, she is probably sad that Choi is retiring.
“Are you kidding? She’s always supported me and told me to use my best time in the cage, even when she regretted not seeing me so much. But when it’s over, we’ll get to spend a lot more time together.”
Of course because he’s a ROAD FC champion, Choi’s decision has caused a lot of feedback from fans, not all of it positive.
“I’ve heard ‘Do you retire because you don’t get fights?’ and ‘You’ll come back when you run out of money.’ That’s totally different from the facts. If it was about money, I’d continue fighting in ROAD FC because the money has been good. I was able to buy a flat.”
Looking back on his six years with ROAD, Choi has no regrets.
“I grew up in ROAD FC, became champion, and made a lot of money. Many people got to know who I am. The founder, Jung Moon-Hong, has always helped me. When I had broken teeth, he brought me to a dentist. When I was hurt, ROAD FC staff took care of me. I have been overseas to fight as well – Kazakhstan and the Philippines – and ROAD FC was always my delegation.”
In fact, even though he won’t be fighting in the cage, he still wants to be around ROAD in some way, and continue to help Korean MMA grow.
“I haven’t actually spoken with ROAD about it yet, but I want to continue with ROAD FC. ROAD FC has done so much to popularize MMA. There are hundreds of ROAD FC affiliate gyms nationwide. Kim Soo-Chul and Lee Yun-Jun are trying to spread it, I also want to teach the know-how that I have accumulated in my career, help young fighters and prospects all over the country.”
Choi reflected upon the most memorable opponents of his career.
“I remember the match against Kwon Bae-Yong, my first title fight. I became a champion, which I never thought I would. I felt like I had grown so much.
“Lee Yun-Jun was a really strong fighter. My skills went out the window. I was one weight class above him, but I believe that he could hold his own against any featherweights after that. Now he’s rehabilitating and working again at the gym. It’s a terrible thing if an athlete can’t exercise, and I’m so happy for him now.”
Going into his fourth title defense, Choi should be on top of the world. He’s been incredible during this run. However, he does have one regret.
“I really wanted to be in the $1 million tournament, but I couldn’t manage my weight. Then ROAD FC was going to let me do it, but I was injured. I’m really sorry that I couldn’t compete in it.”
There are highs and lows in every career, and now Choi the featherweight champion has shared one thing he wishes he could have accomplished. So, is he rushing things? Will he miss the cage if he walks away with more left to accomplish?
“I don’t think I will miss it right away. Even though I announced retirement, this title fight is my priority. But honestly, I probably will miss it later. But I won’t come back if I can help it. If I do, it won’t be soon, and it only a really big match could pull me back.”
After Choi Mu-Gyeom shared his retirement, he was surprised at how many other fighters at home and abroad shared their appreciation of his technical style, and that they wished they could have fought with him.
“I didn’t think I was that interesting to people because I’m not a funny champion, but I am very grateful that a lot of people have heard the news and are reaching out. I’m thankful for the support and their compliments. Please remember me in ROAD FC history as a four-time defending champion. My nickname is Steel Heart, and though people say it’s kind of lame, it’s what I feel. Steel Heart isn’t just strong, it means also calm. I hope people remember that about me.”