There are hordes of mixed martial arts fighters in Asia – but not many can boast of winning practically every tussle they've been involved in. Eddie Ng can, though. As we went to print, the 27-year-old, who represents Hong Kong, had won five out of six professional scuffles since 2007, and had fought twice and won both bouts in less than a minute since joining Asia's biggest MMA organisation, One Fighting Championship, in 2011. And this year, the Hong Kong-born, Singapore-based fighter may lock horns at home for the first time, with One FC likely to hit our city in June.
In person, Ng is boyish, certainly looking younger than his age, wearing a shy smile as he talks enthusiastically about how he loves to gorge on HK food every time he comes back to visit his family. He also says he misses our freshly baked Mrs Fields Cookies when he's in Singapore and how he finds the old, traditional Kowloon Peninsula friendlier than the fast-paced Hong Kong Island. He acts like the teenager who dreams of one day becoming a hero. The only difference is that he kind of already is. A hero who rose up against his bullies.
Growing up in Chester-le-Street, a quaint little town in England's County Durham, where there are barely any Asian people in situ, Ng used to be a prime target for racist taunts and bullying. "There was a lot of name-calling and teasing from other children that happened throughout primary school," he tells Time Out. "In secondary school, the incidents became more serious. I experienced being hit in the face or being shoved over."
Ng recalls one instance, during a cycling trip, as he and two friends took a break, a kid rode up, stopped in front of him and spat in his face. "These things happened so often that my self-confidence went down," he says. "I didn't really like to go to school because I didn't want such things to happen."
Ng didn't tell anyone about the bullying – not even his parents or two older brothers, who, he says, probably went through similar situations – because he felt embarrassed about what happened. "I just kept it inside," he says. "I thought, by keeping it to myself, maybe the problems would stop. But obviously that didn't happen."
At the age of 13, Ng saw the Bruce Lee classic, The Way of the Dragon, and became interested in martial arts. He then watched many of Lee's other films and, to his surprise, he found those kids who bullied him were also fascinated with the same flicks. He says that, when those bullies talked about the movies, it was always about Lee's level of martial arts and not about him being Chinese. "But he was also Chinese," says Ng. "And then I thought maybe I would start learning martial arts and maybe people would start respecting me a little bit more."
Like Lee, Ng first learned wing chun, but quit after about two months because he felt the martial art was not applicable to real life situations. Then he started watching MMA fights. And that's when it all began. He says he was intrigued by the fact that a small person can defend himself against a bigger one by using certain skills and technical abilities. With no coach, he learned all the techniques on his own by watching videos and practicing them on his brothers. He would save all his 'lunch money' for weeks to buy new videos, which he says were expensive at the time, costing £30 ($350) each.
Ng learned a range of disciplines such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling and boxing on his own right up to 2011, when he moved to Singapore, where he could learn from professional instructors. Only then did his parents know that he had secretly been learning martial arts and taking part in MMA fights.
Bruce Lee remains one of the most important people in Ng's life. "It's hard to imagine my life without martial arts now," he says, "because it's been part of me for so long. For me, Bruce Lee is a huge inspiration and role-model. I used to resent being Chinese. He was the first person who made me proud to be who I am."
And his bullies from his childhood days? Well, they stopped going anywhere near him after he started fighting as an amateur. "I believe now, time has changed a lot," says Ng. "I don't think there's as much bullying and racism going on as there used to be. I'm sure there are still some cases all around the world, though. Unfortunately I don't think the problem will ever fully go away."
In June, Ng may come back and fight here for the first time, he says. "It'll probably be the most memorable experience in my life," he says. "Every time I enter a ONE FC fight, I proudly wear the Hong Kong colours as they give me strength. I know people here are behind me. When I enter that cage, I'm representing all of them." Shirley Zhao