A small ballroom tucked away on the top level of a Seoul shopping mall seems an incongruous venue for a night of mixed martial arts. But it’s soon clear that it’s not what’s going on inside the ballroom that matters most. Rather, it’s the effect these events are having outside the room.
The brainchild of South Korean beauty centre king Park Ho-jun, the Angel’s Fighting promotion has been set up to channel all its profits towards helping terminally ill children, a fact organisers claim is a first for the sport.
“Everything goes to them because so often their families can’t afford the bills, or they don’t even have families,” says Park.
“And fans can phone in donations. I used to box and I still work out and see how popular MMA is – everyone is trying it and talking about it. So this is a way to reach people and to entertain them. For the children, it gives them hope.”
So there are bigger forces at play, and to this point the Angel’s Fighting cards have been specifically set up for live streaming on South Korea’s KBS network, with only around 100 or so VIPs gathered to watch the action live. But the fact that their number includes UFC stars Chan “The Korean Zombie” Sung-jung and Kim “Stun Gun” Dong-hyun as well as K-pop superstar Jay Park helps further the event’s reach into the South Korean MMA community and beyond, and helps ensure that there’s more money made that can be put to good use.
Across the eight bouts it is wildly – and sometimes weirdly – entertaining, featuring a few fighters whose main achievement must simply be making it into the cage, and a few whose careers could, and should, be headed on to higher things.
Early on the heavyweights provide some fireworks before Kang Ji-won – perhaps rising to the challenge of an opponent who enters the cage wearing a knock-off copy of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet – marks his debut with a first round KO of Kim Myung-hwan (1-1), while the strawweight bout that ends with a split decision going the way of Jang Hyun-ji (2-1) over Yang Seo-woo (0-2) reveals two more promising South Korean fighters to add to the nation’s rising women’s ranks.
They are a contrast in styles – Yang’s all hands with some piercing combinations, while Jang consistently throws kicks that at times threaten to upend her opponent – and they spark the evening into life.
The Korean Zombie works the corner for bantamweight Seo Jin-soo (4-2), and whatever advice the UFC star gives during the first break works as he pulverises Lee Hyo-min (0-4) in the second before the Lee’s wise cornermen launch a towel into cage.
The presence of Lee Dae-won on the card (for the uninitiated, he’s a pop idol with a taekwondo background) brings wild squeals from a posse of Japanese fans. Lee’s walkout includes two off-siders dressed as the boy wizard Harry Potter waving little wands in the air but there is no need for such trickery when it comes to the right hand that ends this kick-boxing bout with Lee Jae-hyuk.
It’s real – and Lee the victor leaves the cage vowing to now have a crack at MMA.
The headline bout was robbed of significance when Hong Kong’s Rodrigo Caporal (14-8), the current Kunlun Fight lightweight champ, weighed in well over and was ruled out. Instead, the enigmatic welterweight Bae “Wolverine” Myung-ho (17-5) makes short work of late stand-in Yuto Nakajima with a guillotine in the first that leaves the Japanese fighter shaking his head and no doubt wondering – with a record now of 0-5 – why he is there in the first place.
Rumour around the room is that the UFC has eyes for Wolverine – who has a win over Chinese star Li “The Leech” Jingliang (15-5) to his name. Bae’s presence helped draw attention to the night, says Park and his team are already planning for larger events, such as a stadium card set for 17 December.
“We want to get bigger,” says Park.
“We’re a world’s first and you can feel the energy here. We have hundreds of fighters who want to join us and the platform for them is great. This is just the beginning.”