How Taiwan helped launch the MMA career of Khai Wu
American based fighters with Asian roots have made a major impact on MMA in recent years. Aung La Nsang, Angela Lee and Christian Lee are examples that spring to mind and Khai Wu is looking to follow in their footsteps.
The 24 year old was born and raised in the U.S. but both his parents are from Taiwan and he has fought in their homeland five times so far. Wu’s record currently stands at 6-2 and he is riding a four fight winning streak.
Wu made his amateur debut in 2016. With a BJJ black belt in his extended family he was exposed to martial arts from a very early age,
“I started training martial arts at the age of 9 for fun. I was introduced to the sport by my brother-in-law, Dave Camarillo, and I ended up taking it a lot more serious once I turned 14 and did Muay Thai as well.”
Racism was rife in Wu’s neighbourhood and to begin with he was motivated more by the opportunity to learn self defence skills than the prospect of turning pro,
“I got bullied a lot when I was younger and dealt with racism because the area I was living in there weren’t many Asians. That’s when I kind of realized I really needed to learn how to defend myself because I didn’t want to keep running from my problems.”
Wu went 3-1 as an amateur, with the only defeat coming by way of split decision. In 2014 he made his pro debut in Taiwan and it is an experience he will never forget,
“The feeling I got the first time I fought in Taiwan was amazing, I couldn’t believe it was going to happen.When I flew over about two weeks earlier to adjust and finish up the rest of my training camp it was super exciting because I had my whole team with me.”
Wu stopped his Japanese opponent early in the opening round and says it was a surreal experience,
“I won the fight in less than 60 seconds and I remember that moment because the arena was going crazy but I was so in the zone that everything seemed super quiet. It just felt right.”
He has a strong connection to Taiwan having spent three years at school there. When he is in Taipei Wu trains with one of the most prominent figures on the MMA scene there,
“When I was a kid I moved there from 3rd grade to 5th grade. Ever since then I go back frequently, at the very least once a year. When I was 14 I saw this gym called IFighting run by Kemp Cheng who is the UFC on Fox commentator for Taiwan and also a ref for ONE FC. I went there and just did a drop-in class, ended up training with them and everybody there was super nice. Since then, whenever I visited Taiwan I try to stop by as much as I can.”
Wu can fight at either featherweight or bantamweight. His most recent bout was a catchweight contest which ended in a decision win over a Korean opponent at WOTD: ‘Enter The Dragon 3’ in Taipei.
Five of his eight professional bouts have taken place in Taiwan and he’s won all five. Wu has an excellent record in Asia and would welcome the opportunity to improve on it,
“The only promotions I have spoken with in terms of fighting in Asia have been WOTD and ONE Warrior Series. I have always loved the fighting culture over in Asia and would love to fight for any organizations that would have me.”
The MMA scene in Taiwan has not developed at the same speed as various other countries in Asia. But Wu says this situation might be changing,
“MMA is not that popular in Taiwan, as a matter of fact sports in general isn’t that big. It is however starting to change because you’re starting to get a lot of homegrown Taiwanese who excel in sports and that is creating some buzz over there.”
While MMA lacks mainstream appeal in Taiwan there are some local celebrities starting to get behind the sport according to Wu,
“MMA used to be seen as underground fighting but now it is in arenas so that definitely sheds a different light on the sport and it’s becoming more acceptable and becoming more interesting. People such as actors and actresses or YouTubers and influencers are doing more content related to MMA and that has been a driving force to taking the sport to the next level.”
Wu also notes that some of the first fighters to emerge from Taiwan are coming towards the end of their careers and a new generation has yet to emerge,
“A lot of the original fighters such as former UFC fighter Rocky Lee or ONE FC fighter Jeff Huang started the sport at an older age. They are still able to fight but I think with all due respect that they are a little older now and promotions want younger talent.”
He credits Lee and Huang with helping to launch the scene in Taiwan and believes that growth is inevitable,
“If it wasn’t for these guys like Rocky or Jeff the state of MMA would not be where it is today. They definitely paved the way and built the foundation so I can fight in Taiwan. I think you’ll see a lot more MMA events in the near future in Taiwan.”
Wu has no idea when his next fight will be. The UFC is hoping to start putting on behind closed doors cards next month and it is possible other promotions in the U.S. could follow suit.
But he still hopes to get three fights in this year and Wu hopes he can be back in action in a couple of months,
“My plans and ambitions for once this whole Covid-19 is over is to take at least three more fights before the year ends. I hope, based off the projections, that this whole shelter in place thing ends in June and fight promotions can start in July.”
For Wu recent results have been good. He hasn’t lost a fight since dropping a split decision to Isaiah Batin-Gonzalez at Bellator 206 two years ago.
It is difficult to make specific plans during a period of such uncertainty. But Wu is very clear about what he wants to do next,
“I’ve built momentum with this four fight win streak and I intend to keep it rolling!”