Martial arts kickstarted his life
Brazilian jiu-jitsu helped Singaporean stay focused as a teen, now he's a professional MMA fighter
At the age of 15, he wasn't doing well in school, taking little interest in his studies, but Huang Shi Hao found an unlikely mentor in the form of martial arts.
Watching movies like Rocky and Ultimate Fighting Championship's Royce Gracie, who popularised Brazilian jiu-jitsu, sparked his interest in the martial art.
He then looked for places to learn the martial art and came across the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Singapore school.
Huang's mother, a single parent, was supportive of his interest in the sport and enrolled him into the school after speaking to the coach Jason Quek.
She was worried about her son and felt that Quek could help to keep her only child on the straight and narrow.
The beginning was tough, with progress coming slowly for Huang, now 25. But his interest never waned and he steadily improved. Last July, he did well enough to earn a professional multi-bout contract with mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion ONE Championship.
On getting the contract, Huang said: "I was quite happy at first but I was quite scared because this is it. I told myself not to play the fool and that I cannot quit halfway, so I have to put all my energy into it."
It teaches me to think a step ahead... and look into the future. It pushes me to the limit of my capabilities.ONE Championship’s Huang Shi Hao, on how Brazilian jiu-jitsu has helped him
His coach Quek, 38, added: "He's come a long way. He wasn't progressing very well at the beginning, his mind was not at the right place at that time as he was very young.
"To come to ONE Championship is a dream come true, miracles do happen. I always believed that he could go far if he put his heart to it."
Besides making him an athlete, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has also benefited Huang in other ways.
He said: "I'm more calm or relaxed but it has taught me to be more well-rounded in every aspect of life.
"It teaches me to think a step ahead, not just wait and live in the moment and look into the future. It pushes me to the limit of my capabilities."
Huang's martial arts skills came in handy in his two-year stint with the police. But he left two months ago in pursuit of other endeavours like developing his professional MMA career and continuing his studies.
A decade on, Huang's disinterest in school has changed into an eagerness to learn.
In a day, the PSB Academy student typically juggles his part-time course in sports science and management with two to three training sessions. He also teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
But Huang feels that it is worth the grind, saying: "Every person has 24 hours, it's how you make use of the time."
Ahead of his professional debut against China's Xie Bin at ONE Championship's Unstoppable Dreams event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium next Friday, he said: "I'm focusing on my game play as much as I can and I'll try not to make a mistake.
"I hope to get something out of it and make sure that I become a better fighter."
The ultimate goal for Huang is to challenge for a world title, and also to be able to give back to his mum, who has been an unshakeable pillar of support.
He said: "Definitely want to fight for the title, to be honest I'm quite new to this and I still have a lot to learn .
"I want to earn some money and give back to my mum. She has given me encouragement and motivation to never give up."