Essentials: Tang Kai

Hypebeast caught up with the current MMA ONE Featherweight World Champion to discuss his journey as well as personal must-have items. 

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On March 1, 2024, Tang Kai successfully defended his title as the ONE Featherweight World Champion. After an 18-month-long wait since sustaining an injury, Tang emerged victorious with a technical knockout in his second fight against Vietnamese-American fighter, Thanh Le. At the moment the referee declared him champion, Tang not only unified his title but also knocked away all the doubts and pressure he had endured in the past two years.

Essentials: MMA Featherweight ONE Champion Tang Kai

“The moment I step foot into the cage, I finally felt like I was home,” said Tang Kai in an interview right after the match. Over the years, Tang has spent more time in the ring than in his real home. Almost everything in his life revolves around MMA training and associated events. To prepare for his rematch with Thanh Le, Tang spent most of his time training alone in Thailand. If it weren’t for the injury, he wouldn’t have had the chance to return to China before the match, albeit for medical check-ups. In truth, it’s been nine years since Tang had made it back to his hometown in Shaoyang for Lunar New Year celebrations, as he couldn’t bear for his family to see him in his injured state.

Behind his MMA champion persona, Tang Kai is both shy and humble in his everyday life. Last month, Hypebeast caught up with the champion as he trained at a boxing gym in Shanghai. Dressed in a simple black T-shirt and shorts combo, Tang exuded a fuss-free and low-key demeanor. This allowed him to blend into his environment, as he appeared just like any normal person in the boxing gym. It’s not until we hear the loud and explosive bashing of his heavy kicks – an impressive sound that echoed throughout the gym – that everyone is instantly reminded of his world champion status.

In between his training, Tang Kai sat down with Hypebeast to discuss his MMA journey as well as some of his must-have daily essentials.

ONE Championship Gold Belt

This belt means a lot to me. Back in August 2022, I won it from the then-champion, Thanh Le. It’s my first gold belt and also proof of my abilities and achievements.

Career Gifts Sent By West Point to Employees by Yang Li Jin

Essentials: MMA Featherweight ONE Champion Tang Kai

I bought this book a while back and I still flip through it occasionally. I decided to bring it with me during my stay in China, but there are also a handful of books at home that I’m reading as well.

D.H Chuang Shang Rugao Ointment

Essentials: MMA Featherweight ONE Champion Tang Kai

This is a special ointment for muscle, joint and soft tissue injuries. I have it with me just in case, but I actually haven’t used it yet and hope I never need to in the future.

Quechua Isothermal Hiker’s Camping Mug

Essentials: MMA Featherweight ONE Champion Tang Kai

I have this cup with me whenever I go out – it’s very portable and easy to use. I’m sure many people are paranoid about the cleanliness of cups in public places, so that’s why I always carry my own mug.

ONE Championship Branded Towel

Essentials: MMA Featherweight ONE Champion Tang Kai

This is probably one of my favorite merch from ONE – it’s so practical. Just like the gold belt, I also carry this with me whenever I’m traveling.

How do you feel now that you’ve defended your champion title against Thanh Le for the second time?

Tang Kai: It feels great. I’ve been feeling a sense of regret since I didn’t KO’d him last time, so I’m glad I managed to make it up.

Essentials: MMA Featherweight ONE Champion Tang Kai

Do you ever feel uneasy or nervous before entering the cage? If so, how do you overcome it?

It’s a competition after all, so there’s definitely tension. I think almost everyone will feel nervous to an extent, but I always get through it by reassuring myself to stay calm and simply enjoy the game.

You’ve KO’d your opponents many times in the span of your career. Is this your preferred way of ending a match?

Yes, I like upright strikes the most. It’s also what everyone likes to see.

What was your most memorable KO to date?

It was with Kim Jae Woong and I KO’d him in the first round. That victory also earned me the right to challenge the reigning champion then.

What do the concepts of winning and losing in MMA mean to you?

It’s normal, especially in a competitive nature. Everybody wants to win and that’ll be all they can think about, but there are bound to be times when you lose too. In saying so, I never think too deeply about losing, so I don’t have much to comment on that aspect.

Essentials: MMA Featherweight ONE Champion Tang Kai

MMA fighters often exude the impression of being very flashy, but you’re surprisingly shy and quiet in private. Do you see yourself as dualistic?

On stage, I put on a flashy and ostentatious persona, while the more demure personality is how I am as a human being outside of the ring – both personalities are me nonetheless.

What’s your family’s view on your career?

My family has always been very supportive. When I was a kid, I pestered my parents to bring me to a sports school to learn gymnastics. Sadly, my body wasn’t suitable for it as I was already 12 at the time. With hesitance, I picked up wrestling instead. After learning to wrestle for a few years, I came across a fighting program on TV and that was my first encounter with MMA. It was also at that moment I found my calling – I was born to fight.

After that, I slowly embarked on the path of mixed martial arts. For sure, my parents had their worries, like whether I’d get hurt along the way or something. But at the end of the day, they always support my decisions.

Do you have any special training methods?

Training is a very boring activity, but as an athlete, it’s my responsibility to focus on it day after day. There’s honestly nothing special or unusual about training.

What words best summarize the charm of MMA for you?

MMA has changed me. It’s a sport that can imbue confidence, humbleness and integrity in a person. These are also the fundamental qualities for athletes that the ONE Championship constantly promotes and advocates for.

Now that you’re a two-time world champion now, what’s next?

The more wins, the better and I’ll keep defending my title to the best of my abilities.

Essentials: MMA Featherweight ONE Champion Tang Kai

Aside from boxing, do you have any other interests?

Only boxing at the moment. I’m not interested in any other sports right now.

What’s the mixed martial arts scene like in China? Do you think there’s room for improvement?

There’s definitely room for improvement, as professional teams, coaches and even competitions are scarce within the country. These aspects are much more developed overseas since they’ve had a headstart and so it’s hard to compare. I believe China will get there eventually!

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