James Yang is set to make his pro debut at ONE Championship’s Revolution later this month, after a life spent dedicated to martial arts.
Despite his pro debut quickly approaching, Yang (6-0 AMMA) told Cageside Press in an exclusive interview earlier this month that after his initial excitement, “as the fight draws nearer, gets closer, I just get zenned out. Cool, calm, collected kind of thing. As chill as a cucumber. That’s where I’m at right now. Just chilled out, just waiting, it’s a waiting game now. Just tick tock, tick tock. I’m ready to get in there and do my thing.”
Yang has had plenty of amateur experience, where he was undefeated, and quite the journey in martial arts. “My whole martial arts journey in general has prepared me for this moment. If anything, my whole life has prepared me for this moment,” observed Yang.
Having last competed in MMA in 2018, Yang saw a handful of fights fall through as his resume grew more impressive. To stay active, he competed in grappling, winning both his outings in that realm. Now, he’s ready to make his pro debut for ONE Championship, after a journey that started at a very young age. “I wanted to do martial arts as early as I can remember, but maybe the first time I actually went into a martial arts place, I was like 11 years old.” Yang got his start with a Lion Dance team, as the only kid in the gym. “I would go perform Lion Dance, which has a big cultural significance to me. That’s how I got my start.”
He’d go on to train in China, at an actual Shaolin Temple. At 17, Yang left home straight out of high school. He’d find himself at a rural academy in Northeastern China, in what he described as a “roughneck area” about an hour from the closest city. “It was just an under-developed city at the time. You’ve got to remember, this was 07, 08, before the Olympics. So this was a very different China than it is now. I was living in the academy for three years. I planned to go for six months, but then I got an opportunity to perform with the demo team. I just took that, and I stayed there for three years.”
It was far from a cakewalk. After eight hours of daily training, there were two hours of hot water at night, with six mouldy, grimy faucets shared by the students. Lights were cut out at 10PM nightly; an alarm woke the pupils, rested or not, at 5AM each day. No electricity, pit toilets, and corporal punishment were other factors. “Everyone used to watch you get a stick broken over your backside. It was one hell of an experience, and it definitely shaped me and made me into the man I am today.”
As he got older, Yang returned stateside, where he spent a lot of time “commuting back and forth” between jobs: aerospace factories, UPS package handling, and teaching Wushu.
“I was driving four hours a day on the road. Just four hours of my day gone, just on the road, sitting in traffic all day long. I was like, ‘what am I doing?’ I spent four years training and living in China, touring and having this amazing experience as a martial artist, and coming back to America, I was like ‘man, am I going to let those years go to waste? What am I doing here?” Yang knew that if he didn’t pursue a martial arts career, he’d lose his shot. Not wanting to live with nagging “what ifs,” he committed to chasing his dream. “So I decided about seven years ago to join AMC Boxing and Pankration [in Kirkland, Washington]. Never looked back since.”
If you’re not familiar with AMC Pankration, you probably recognize it’s star pupil: Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, considered by many one of the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. That’s the sort of talent James Yang has been training with.
“He’s been such a big help in my martial arts journey, but even out of the gym, he’s been a great friend, a great mentor, just a big brother to me. He’s always been there for me over these last couple of years,” Yang said of the former UFC champ and current ONE star. In particular, Johnson has stressed recovery, and not over-training, to the young fighter ahead of his pro debut. “He’s always been there for me. He’s been a great mentor all around.”
Watch our full interview with ONE: Revolution’s James Yang above! The card goes down this Friday, September 24 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Yang faces Roel Rosauro at the event.