Growing up in the northeast of England was tough for Hong Kong-born Eddie Ng Gar-wei. Because of his Asian heritage while living in Chester-le-Street, a small town near Newcastle, Ng was bullied almost daily.
In an almost exclusively all-white town, he detested the fact he was Asian at the time. "Almost every day something would happen. There was always bullying. There were other things, like I would be the last one to be picked on a team or no one would come sit next to me during lunch. There were many unpleasant incidents. I even had people spit at me and then they would have a laugh about it," recalled 26-year-old Ng, who moved to England when he was two but now lives in Singapore.
"I wasn't severely beaten or anything like that. But it affected my confidence and I didn't feel I had anybody I could talk to. I was embarrassed with what was going on. I just bottled it up. I didn't know how to react."
Those bullies would think twice about picking on Ng now. He is one of the rising stars on Asia's mixed martial arts circuit and will be fighting in front of an estimated crowd of 12,000 at the One Fighting Championship at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on April 5. It will be his seventh professional fight and so far he has won all but one of them - some in devastating fashion.
Those bad old days in Chester-le-Street actually made Ng the person he is today - he got into martial arts to try to break free from the bullying cycle. He discovered wing chun, the art Bruce Lee first showed the world in the 1970s, but was drawn to Brazilian jiu-jitsu after watching a video of Ken Shamrock, one of the early superstars of MMA, win a tournament with ease.
"Shamrock was the smallest guy in the tournament but he won without ever throwing a single punch. He won by choke holds and arm locks. I watched the video and I was instantly drawn to the sport," said Ng, who fights as a lightweight (155 pounds or 70kgs).
"I also watched UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] videos and I was impressed by a jiu-jitsu master called Royce Gracie [the Brazilian considered by many to be the most influential figure in MMA]. I was never given proper instruction and just learned the moves on those instructional videos. I would practise on my younger brother," he laughed.
Ng travelled the world in search of quality training and eventually settled at Evolve MMA in Singapore, where there are 10 black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructors to learn from. Ng, who also coaches at Evolve, one of the largest gyms in the world, is now a blue belt in the Brazilian martial art form and has become a strong fighter on the ground, earning a fearsome reputation for his grappling moves.
His last two opponents at the One Fighting Championship were beaten in the first round and now that he is making a name for himself, Ng has embraced his Asian roots.
"I actually travelled to Thailand, New York, San Diego and Las Vegas to learn martial arts. Would I get back at those people who bullied me? Certainly not. It's not my nature to do that. Even my friends ridiculed me when I first started training. They all wanted to go out and party. But I didn't want any of that. Now that I am somebody, they suddenly want to be my friend again!"
Ng will be proudly representing Hong Kong in Singapore, where he will face the French MMA champion, Arnaud "The Game" Lepont.
"I can't say he's the toughest fighter I will face. All my opponents are tough guys. And my opponents in future will also be tough. For me it's all about the challenge. I want to take on huge challenges, especially when I am given no chance of winning. That motivates me," said Ng.
Ng earned his moniker "The Magician" after he fought two MMA fighters who had a combined ring experience of 50 fights. "When I fought in the UK, I was fighting against a guy who had replaced an injured fighter I was supposed to fight. Lee Doski was a ranked fighter in Europe and had 30 professional fights. I had little or no fight experience. It was supposed to be a mismatch but I won.
"People then thought it must be beginner's luck. I had nothing to lose. I was then up against a fighter called Jason Ball, who held the UK [MMA] title, and I also won that fight.
"People were then saying to me, 'You're a magician, how did you win that?' The name just stuck," said Ng, who has a degree in multi-media and digital entertainment from Northumbria University.
"I was also interested in sport and I played everything from table tennis to rugby, rock climbing, cricket, athletics and basketball. But I am a professional fighter now and I enjoy fighting and coaching. It's what I like to do most," said Ng.
One FC, Asia's largest mixed martial arts organisation, will feature some of the best fighters from the continent and will be broadcast live to 28 countries on Star Sports.
The championship will be headlined by a lightweight world championship bout between reigning champion Kotetsu "No Face" Boku and No 1 contender Shinya "Tobikan Judan" Aoki, two of the best MMA fighters from Japan.
"Someday I hope One FC will be held in Hong Kong and that I will fight in front of my fans here," said Ng.