As a graduate of National Taipei University (NTU) who had been working as an investment consultant, Jeff Huang’s financial future was bright, until one day the 34-year-old came to a sudden realization that it was not money that interested him — it was martial arts.
In 2011, he decided to leave behind a lucrative job with a US investment firm in Taiwan and travel to Brazil to focus on becoming a full-time fighter. The decision to swap the office for the gym was a bold one, but almost two years on Huang says he has absolutely no regrets.
“I had a decent job, a luxurious lifestyle, but I never felt satisfied because it wasn’t the kind of job I could do with enthusiasm and with all my soul forever. I quit because I was looking for something that can make me feel really alive and that’s when I made my trip in South America. Once I started training there, it was impossible for me to go back to the life I had before,” Huang said.
Huang is currently in Rio de Janeiro, where he chose to base himself because the South American city is regarded as the best place in the world to study Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ), a submission-based martial art which involves employing various chokes, holds and locks designed to allow a smaller fighter to defeat much bigger and stronger opponents.
BJJ is a key component of mixed martial arts (MMA), the combat sport taking the planet by storm. Huang made his professional debut in July last year, returning to Taiwan to take on a Malaysian opponent, who he stopped in the opening round at PRO Fighting 8.
“I always like to challenge myself with hard targets, and to me stepping into the cage and fighting with well-trained fighters has always been one of my biggest challenges, so I decided to make my MMA debut on a trip back to Taipei last May. I spent lots of time preparing for the fight, and really focused on it, and my efforts paid off as I won by knocking out my opponent in 19 seconds of the first round,” he said.
Perhaps the greatest challenge Huang has faced so far was persuading his friends and family that the decision to leave behind both his country and his career to start a new life as a martial artist on the other side of the world was the right one.
He admits that the news was not universally well received.
“I didn’t really tell my family what I’m going to do here, I just told them I am going to have my own business in Brazil. Being traditional parents, they were kind of shocked and thought my behavior was radical. They had a hard time accepting my route, but I still decided to go for it. The response from most of my friends was positive, but I am pretty sure some of them thought I was totally out of my mind,” he said.
Asia’s biggest MMA promotion, ONE Fighting Championship, recently secured a deal which will see its fights broadcast live on Star Sports to 28 Asian countries, including Taiwan.
Taipei is on the list of cities where the Singapore-based promoter is planning to hold an event and Huang hopes to one day have the opportunity to test himself against the top fighters in the region.
“If I have chance to fight in a big promotion, like ONE FC, I would love to do, and for sure I will do everything I can to prove I am good enough to be there,” he said.
Moving 16,000km from home was not a career move but a lifestyle choice for Huang, and regardless of whether he succeeds as a professional mixed martial artist, he is happy with the path that he has chosen.
“To me, BJJ or MMA is not just a sport, it’s a way of life, because you can learn new things not only about techniques, but also about yourself. The possibilities are infinite and I am constantly intrigued by resolving this enigma and seeing how dedicated, tough and creative I can be. I have learned and experienced more in these past 18 months than the last 10 years of my life, and I hope I can keep training and fighting as long as my body allows me to,” he said.