Not every fighter’s nickname has an interesting narrative behind it. Bokang Masunyane is one of the few who has both a cool moniker and an even better story to tell about it.

Masunyane is known as ‘Little Giant’ a nickname that he earned as a schoolboy in Johannesburg. It was given to him by a teacher who was impressed at the way he had become a star athlete despite his diminutive stature,

“When I was in school, one of my teachers told me that he wants to write a book about my life story called ‘Little Giant’. I like the nickname.” Masunyane  said.

The strawweight currently stands at 5’1″. He is one of the smallest fighters in the division but that hasn’t stopped him from putting together a 7-0 professional record.

As a child he played football and there were no weight classes or divisions but Masunyane excelled despite being smaller than his peers,

“I realized that I’m not going to be the biggest person around but I didn’t see that as a disadvantage. I was always a top performer in any sort of sports that I played in. My size didn’t matter,” Masunyane added.

Work ethic

The South African discovered his love for combat sports when he joined the school’s wrestling team at seven years old. These days he is renowned for his takedowns and slams and says his success is down to a strong work ethic,

“I just made sure that I worked hard in anything I did. I used my height to an advantage and I somehow always looked to outwork my opponents. It worked out well for me. They knew that they were going to have a tough time going against me,” he said.

He went on to represent his country at wrestling but was ready to retire from sport to become a school teacher. After falling short in the bronze-medal match at the 2014 Commonwealth Games he had decided to hang up his singlet for good.

But Masunyane had a change of heart when he was invited by a close friend to train in MMA,

“I’ve always been fascinated with MMA and I thought that I am good enough for it. I’ve always been ready to put in the work in any sport I did,” Masunyane stated.

Switching combat sport codes was a gamble. The teaching profession might have represented a more sensible option but Masunyane felt he was destined to compete in the cage,

“I honestly took a chance with doing MMA, but as soon as I started training, I really enjoyed it. I realized I was good at it. I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

Thrilling fans

He quickly set about putting his wrestling skills to good use. Masunyane went 6-0 as an amateur and then won five fights out of five for EFC in his native South Africa.

The sight of a small flyweight picking taller opponents up and flinging them around thrilled fight fans in South Africa as Masunyane carried on exactly where he had left off in wrestling,

“I was known for throwing my opponents around. I was this small guy wrestling against guys twice my size, and I always throw them on their heads,” he said.

A knee injury put him out of commission for the majority of 2018. But his return to action was impressive as he cruised to a one sided decision win over Yusuke Ogikubo at Pancrase 307 last year.

The Japanese fans enjoyed the sight of  the ‘Little Giant’ throwing around a much taller opponent and so did the ONE Championship scouts. He was signed by the Asian powerhouse promotion just months after making his Pancrase debut.

At ONE: ‘Mark of Greatness’ he was matched with Ryuto Sawada. The South African wrestled his way to a clear-cut unanimous decision victory, breaking his Japanese foe’s three-fight winning streak.

Masunyane walked away with his eighth career win and remains undefeated. But he feels he could have performed better,

“I know that I’ll be able to put up a better performance in my next fight. I would give myself a rating of five out of ten in my last performance because I was mostly focused on securing a win instead of putting out my best performance,” he explained.

Big ambitions

Masunyane is eyeing the top end of the talent pool in his division. That win wasn’t enough to earn him a spot in the rankings but he wants to challenge the best strawweights on the roster,

“I’d love to challenge myself against the best in the world. I like to fight everyone in my weight class to prove to myself that I’m the best fighter in the world.”

He will presumably need to beat a ranked contender before being granted a title shot. But Masunyane says a date with strawweight kingpin Joshua Pacio is his target,

“Joshua Pacio is a great fighter. There’s a reason why he is a world champion, and he is also in a world-class gym. My goal is to be a world champion, and I’m going to become one, no matter what it takes. It doesn’t matter who’s in my way. I see myself holding the title. It’s my destiny,” he said

Pacio is significantly taller but that won’t bother the ‘Little Giant’. Masunyane has well and truly earned his nickname and is proud to be beating bigger fighters in impressive style,

“I’m not the biggest guy in my weight class but I surely fight like a giant. My fighting style says it all.”