There are several warriors in ONE Championship who have unbelievable tales of adversity and triumph on the highest of levels.
Although they might seem more like movie storylines than real life, they are indeed authentic, and show just how powerful martial arts can be in changing people’s lives for the better.
Here are five of our most inspiring heroes who have overcome incredible odds to find success.
Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes almost never had a chance to become the best flyweight martial artist on the planet – the ONE Flyweight World Champion.
Sometime in April 1988, just a few days after being born, Moraes was abandoned by his birth mother on the rough streets of Brasilia, Brazil. He was discovered and placed in an orphanage with other children from similar circumstances, but was very fortunately adopted by a lovely lady named Mirtes Moraes three years later.
Mirtes was an active parent, enrolling her spirited child in various activities including capoeira, judo and swimming. Nonetheless, the streets still had a hold on young Adriano. He would fall into bad company in his teenage years, being involved with youth gangs and brawling in public. After one such brawl, his friends suggested he try his hand at Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
It was a decision that would change his life forever.
Moraes left the streets for the dojo, trained with the world-famous Constrictor Team, remained dedicated to his craft, and embraced a positive and compassionate attitude. That led to multiple titles, including the 2014 NAGA No-Gi Pro Division Championship.
The submission wizard was hooked on martial arts, and his talent eventually led him to the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Championship in September 2014. Despite losing it to Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov via split decision nearly a year later, he remained focused on his goal of reclaiming the belt.
Moraes relocated to Florida to train with American Top Team, won two matches on the way to the interim crown in August 2016, and then defeated Akhmetov via unanimous decision in their rematch to become the undisputed champion once again.
Former ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang survived bitter heartbreak and several personal tragedies in order to achieve greatness.
Growing up in Baguio City, Folayang was one of nine children, five of whom passed away due to sickness because the family did not have access to proper medical care. His parents were both illiterate, and worked multiple jobs in order to put food on the table. However, they made sure their children would have the chances they never had, and borrowed money just to pay their children’s way through school.
Fortunately, “Landslide” found a way out in martial arts. He picked up wushu, proved to be a prodigious talent, and earned a scholarship to the University Of The Cordilleras, where he competed on the school’s wushu squad.
Coincidentally, this is where he would meet future Team Lakay head coach and lifelong friend, Mark Sangiao. He would make the Philippine national wushu team, and racked up 11 major medals, including three golds at the SEA Games.
The Filipino warrior’s destiny, however, lay inside the cage. In 2007, he won a national championship in his professional debut. Although he subsequently experienced a couple of setbacks, those failures ultimately made him better as a martial artist.
In November 2016, five years after headlining ONE’s inaugural show in Singapore, he returned to the Lion City to face ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki, who was considered to be Asia’s best martial artist of the modern era.
Folayang was able to survive the submission specialist’s grappling attack, and even turned things around with a third-round TKO to capture the ONE Lightweight World Championship. The Filipino hero spent his childhood in poverty. Now, he is one of the greatest success stories in Philippine history, and never has to worry about living in poverty again.
As a young child, ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes was forced to fend for himself and his family.
Fernandes grew up in a poverty-stricken area in Manaus, Brazil, and his mother died when he was only 7 years old. His father then pushed young Bibiano and his siblings deep into the Amazon rainforest, where they lived with his aunt and cousins. “The Flash” had to hunt and forage to survive, and even contracted malaria, nearly succumbing to the deadly disease.
Soon, he returned to live with his father, and helped to support him by doing some part-time work, including washing cars and selling popsicles. Eventually, he met an instructor at a local Brazilian jiu-jitsu school, and desperately wanted to learn.
The only problem was he could not afford the lessons. However, the instructor was sensitive to Fernandes’ situation, and offered to teach him for free in exchange for work cleaning the gym.
That deal would later pay dividends, as “The Flash” became one of the most decorated grapplers in martial arts history. After receiving his black belt in 2002, he became a five-time IBJJF World Champion in the black belt division, and also won the Pan American Championship three years in a row.
Fernandes successfully transitioned those skills into the cage in 2004, where he has since amassed an incredible 21-3 professional record. He has since become an icon in Asia, as he claimed the DREAM Featherweight Championship in 2009, the DREAM Bantamweight Championship in 2011, and then the undisputed ONE Bantamweight World Championship in October 2013.
Now living in Canada with his wife and three kids, Fernandes has ensured that his own family will never go through the pain and tragedy he experienced as a child in Brazil.
Malaysia’s Agilan “Alligator” Thani has always been a gentle spirit, but everywhere he turned while growing up, there was a different obstacle.
Raised in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with a single father and three members of his extended family, Thani braved the walk to school every day through the crime-ridden Kuala Lumpur neighborhood of Sentul.
Sadly, Thani was bullied daily, beaten up constantly, and was emotionally tormented on a daily basis because of his ethnicity and weight. Having turned to junk food for comfort, at one point, Thani weighed an astonishing 140 kilograms.
The young Malaysian felt alone. He could not even talk to his biggest inspiration, his father, about the bullying, as he was once told off for being unable to take care of his problems.
That was when he finally found a way out. After experimenting briefly with karate, his passion for martial arts was ignited upon watching the Donnie Yen film “SPL: Sha Po Lang” at age 16. That led him to Monarchy MMA, where he became hooked on Brazilian jiu-jitsu and other disciplines. Slowly, but surely, the weight slid off, and as he improved as a martial artist, the bullying decreased.
By then, Thani had more than enough skill to defend himself, but instead used his newfound ability to reinvent himself into a martial artist with dreams of winning a world title. He went on to become the MIMMA Welterweight Champion in 2014, and then turned professional, eventually racking up seven wins in two years en route to challenging Ben Askren for the ONE Welterweight World Champion in May 2017.
Despite falling short in his quest for the gold, he has since become a role model for Malaysian youth and the country’s Indian community. His unbreakable spirit is still alive and kicking, as he renews his title campaign with added vigor.
Growing up with ADHD, he was disinterested in school, and never found a sport that captured his interest. Instead, he became a juvenile delinquent, committing theft, street fighting, and being involved in drugs in his native Uppsala, Sweden.
Though he discovered a passion for Muay Thai, he could not train for long, as his checkered past caught up with him. At age 16, he was thrown into a youth detention center on the southeastern Swedish island of Gotland, and was one step away from prison.
Fortunately, the juvenile facility offered Brazilian jiu-jitsu and other martial arts classes in an effort to rehabilitate these troubled teens, and it connected with Kadestam in a way nothing else ever did before. As a result, he vowed to turn his life around, and make it to compete in a big show one day.
After his release two years later, he avoided his previous negative influences, and on the urging of his coach from Pancrase Gym Sweden, embarked on a new life in Asia. He trained at Legacy Gym in Thailand, where he participated in Muay Thai bouts and later cage competition. Soon, in mid-2012, he relocated to the Philippines to help develop the gym’s Boracay branch. Along the way, he even captured the PXC Welterweight Championship.
Though he moved back to Sweden a changed man in 2015, Kadestam returned to Asia in May 2017 for the opportunity of a lifetime. He accepted a match on two weeks’ notice against former world title challenger Luis Santos. Despite being the underdog, he knocked out the Brazilian, and earned a shot at the king himself – undefeated ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren.
At ONE CHAMPIONSHIP: SHANGHAI in September, Kadestam realized his dream of competing in a major show. In fact, he did even better than that, headlining the organization’s inaugural show in the Chinese metropolis to challenge Askren for the belt.
Although “The Bandit” lost to Askren, he has proved that martial arts and a bit a passion can change anyone for the better, and provide a second chance at life.