One Championship’s Paul Cheng “Be careful what you wish for”

61f9e7fc98b11beda1f7427d58379565At 36 years old, One Championship’s heavyweight fighter Paul Cheng has done what most have only dreamed of fulfilling. From a boxer, to stuntman, to being a former defensive lineman for the Canadian Football League’s B.C Lions, Cheng tried his hand at MMA in 2011 and has since established an impressive 5-1 record. However the one aspect that eludes his illustrious career is a major championship and on April 24th at ONE: Valor of Champions he has the opportunity to get one step closer to that dream. Cheng faces off with Ukrainian fighter Igor Subora, in a bout which could produce one of the challengers for vacant ONE Championship heavyweight strap. But it hasn’t been an easy road for Cheng who admits the odds have always been stacked against him. His family moved from Taiwan to Toronto when he was nine years old and the language barrier made him an immediate target for bullying. “To be honest it was pretty tough, I didn’t speak English” Cheng told MMAOddsBreaker. “Kids pick on you and they have no idea what they are saying to you and can’t talk back to them. Like most kids migrating to North America for the first time, sports has always been a positive outlet because it’s a universal activity without language barriers. At an early age Cheng understood that all the cool kids played sports and he decided to take part in football. The Taiwanese fighter took an early interest in football after watching Buffalo Bills games on TV in nearby Toronto. While it seemed like a great idea, his parents weren’t keen on his decision. “My mother always discouraged me to play sports in general. They never came to watch any of my high school football games. My mom always told me ‘you ever see any Chinese boys on this team?’ Always in my mind I thought, why I can’t be the first [Asian player]? My mom promised me, if I played on TV she would come and watch me.“ Despite his critics, Cheng made seamless transition to football. He would go on to earn a football scholarship at Simon Frasier University in British Columbia and just a few years later was selected sixth overall in the 2002 CFL draft by the B.C. Lions. It was here he finally got to fulfill his mother’s promise as she watched him play during a televised CFL preseason game in his first season. But Cheng didn’t have the storybook football career he would have liked. He ended up leaving the sport and trying to figure out his next move. While one door closed, another one opened as the Port Coquitlam native found a new calling in mixed martial arts, despite being 32-years old at the time. “My head coach at Clinch MMA Sal Ram, we were actually neighbours and he was a professional MMA fighter at the time. He kind of dragged me into a boxing gym. For years I didn’t do anything because of my failed football career. I started training a little bit and started enjoying it. I had a few pro boxing fights and boxing wasn’t my thing. Then my coach Sal opened his own gym then kind of talked me into [trying MMA] I was actually working as a stunt guy in the movie industry, a lot of the Asian stunt guys were encouraging me to train martial arts. So I took Sal’s offer up and then starting training with him and five years later here I am.” The Canadian heavyweight found immediate success, racking up an impressive 3-1 record in just his first two years of competing. It was shortly after his first fight that he joined forces with a UFC and PRIDE veteran who took his career to the next level with One Championship. “I took a training trip up to Tristar gym in Montreal and I met Denis Kang who kind took me under his wing. With my coach Sal and Denis making some phone calls, I got a contract with ONE Championship and I was blown away. I was like maybe 2-3 years into the sport since my first training session, I couldn’t believe it. “ The pinnacle in Cheng’s MMA career came in his last fight against Mahmoud Hassan– at ONE FC 18: War of Dragons last July – where he not only got to complete in his birthplace of Taiwan, but he also pulled off a come from behind victory. “My mom came up to me and was like ‘I doubted you for all these years, I’m really proud of you.’ It was a pretty emotional moment for me. After all the years of people telling me I can’t do this, I can’t do that. Finally I’m being acknowledged for doing something special. Through my failure I’ve learned a lot, and I believe I’m on track the first Chinese World Heavyweight champion.” Ahead of his fight on April 24th, Cheng faces off with (5-2) Subora who had his five fight win streak snapped by UFC veteran Brandon Vera. Like his previous bout, Subora called out his opponent for this matchup and One Championship granted him his wish. While Cheng isn’t one to mince words, the callout has only motivated him for this matchup. “I don’t really talk too much; I don’t call people out. To be honest I don’t feel like it was his place because he’s coming off a loss. I have two wins and I’ve got to go to his house? Personally I don’t really understand, I have the proven track record, he doesn’t. The proof is in the pudding I’m going to go April 24th and I’m going to the beat him in his own house, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for my friend.“ As he usually does for his training camps, Cheng will be preparing at Clinch MMA in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Along with his head coach Ram and former kickboxer Chris Van Luven, Cheng has already put in some time with former UFC fighters Denis Kang, Kalib Starnes and Jason Day. Stylistically it’s not a secret both of these juggernauts will look to stand and trade. Despite both being well versed on the feet, the one area where these two differ according to Cheng is his experience and being able to overcome adversity. “He believes he is the better boxer, technical striker. Last time out I didn’t have my best performance, I got a little rushed, clipped and bad things happened. But at the same time, I’m a survivor; I’m a winner, that’s what I’m going to do. Igor has never been in deep water, and I’ve been in deep water several times. Hey Igor guess what? I’m going to bring you into my world and it’s not going to be a pleasant world my friend.“ The winner of this matchup could have big implications for One Championships’ heavyweight division. With Vera winning his One Championship debut last December, in all likelihood the winner of this fight could fight the former UFC heavyweight for a One Championship vacant title down the line. For Cheng the significance would be far greater for him, as he looks to chase the history books trying to become the first Chinese World Heavyweight champion. While he’s not looking past Subora, Cheng believes Vera should be his next opponent if he gets earns a victory next month “I’m not the boss and I don’t make the matchups. I trust [One Championship] to make the right matchups. Everyone believes that Brandon “The Truth” Vera will be in the One Championship heavyweight world champion, but I’m going to prove that truth wrong. “ Follow Paul  on Twitter @TyphoonCheng and you can listen to the full audio interview on this week’s The Parting Shot Podcast 

Written by James Lynch

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