There is a word on the lips of Seo Hee Ham and that word is ‘fun’. When the Korean is asked about the possibility of winning ONE Championship’s atomweight Grand Prix, challenging Angela Lee and eventually becoming the champion it is a theme she will constantly return to.

“No matter where I compete I will have fun, enjoy it and give a great performance like I did in Japan,” she told reporters last week.

First up for the former Rizin 108lbs champion is Denice Zamboanga at ONE: ‘Empower’ in May. There are no prizes for guessing what she hopes the fight will be like,

“I know for sure that this wont be an easy fight. I think this will be a very hard fight but I’m gonna try my best to enjoy it and have fun in there.”

A cut above

Fighting an undefeated opponent who is currently ranked #1 at atomweight would not be most fighter’s idea of ‘fun’. But after being harshly cut by the UFC following two controversial decision defeats Ham has proved that she is simply a cut above most fighters.

The 34 year old has won six fights in a row capturing the Road FC 105lbs title as well as the Rizin belt and beating the likes of Mina Kurobe, Jinh Yu Frey, Miyuu Yamamoto and Ayaka Hamasaki. It is an impressive list of accomplishments and opponents but Ham says she is ready for the next challenge,

“I want to challenge my self by competing somewhere where I never competed before and right now ONE Championship is the biggest stage for me and that’s why I signed with ONE Championship,” she said.

She won Rizin’s super atomweight title while under contract was with Road FC. ONE Championship stepped in to sign her when that deal elapsed and Ham hinted that the situation was more complicated than people realized,

“I cant say it was a hard decision (to sign for ONE Championship) because I followed my heart but I was in a difficult situation. It’s hard to explain.”

One goal

Now that she made the switch Ham plans to win the Grand Prix and then challenge for a third title from an Asian MMA promotion,

“It’s an honour to sign with ONE Championship, I know ONE Championship is the biggest stage right now and now that I’ve finally signed with my only goal is to get that belt. I’m going to keep moving until I get it.”

The belt belongs to Angela Lee who is taking time off to have her first child. Ham admits she has been following the Hawaiian’s career very closely,

“I watched all of Angela Lee’s bouts in ONE Championship. Of course it’s going to be a very difficult bout but she has her strengths and I have my strengths. When I watch her bouts I can see she enjoys competing just like me so I’m sure both of us will have fun in there.”

Long layoff

To secure that title shot she needs to beat three separate opponents, starting with Zamboanga. It sounds like she has a lot of respect for the Filipina,

“She is ranked number one in ONE Championship and she beat all of her opponents so there is a reason she is number one ranked, it’s a fact and nothing can change that. As an athlete I believe everyone is a hard opponent and a difficult opponent. The only way I can know is by getting in the circle.”

With Rizin unable to fly in fighters from overseas for most of the year she did not get to compete at all in 2020. It is the longest Ham has been inactive for since turning pro in 2007 and she admits to feeling some nerves,

“I have never really had such a long layoff so I am nervous but this is a new stage, a new experience and I’m very excited and very happy.”

Enjoy the fight

Ham plans to study Zamboanga in more detail but has heard good things about her opponent from friends who have trained with her,

“I haven’t studied Denice Zamboanga that much yet but I’m planning to. I heard from some friends that her strength is amazing and she’s very strong so I am focusing on my strength and conditioning program.”

Should Ham get past Zamboanga the winner of the rematch between Stamp Fairtex and Alyona Rassohyna awaits. Notable fighters on the other side of the draw include Itsuki Hirata and Meng Bo.

The Grand Prix format throws up plenty of permutations but Ham is only focused on one thing,

“To be honest I don’t care about the opponent. Every bout I just try to enjoy the fight and have fun.”

A new challenge awaits Ham as she moves into what will surely be the final phase of a glittering career. Whatever happens the Korean is determined to enjoy herself. She wants to have fun.