Ming Tang getting a real kick out of his chosen art form
Hong Kong fighter has built up a strong record, but he is still struggling to win over his family
The first real battle of Ming Tang's career as a Muay Thai fighter came long before he stepped between the ropes - and it saw him go toe-to-toe with his family.
Tang had grown up dabbling in every sport offered by his schools and out on the playgrounds and parks of Hong Kong but nothing could ever seem to quite keep him interested. It was a chance encounter with a friend when he was 15 that pointed him towards the Thai martial art, and once he had joined a gym and started training the now-23-year-old knew there'd be no turning back.
Others, though, took a little more convincing.
"My friend had started training and he knew what I was like," says Tang. "He thought it was perfect for me and he was right but my parents and my family didn't like it at all.
"We had some really big arguments about me becoming a Muay Thai fighter, it wasn't very nice. They just thought I'd get hurt and that the sport was too dangerous for a young man but they didn't really understand what it is all about."
Luckily those worries have now been cast aside - mostly - as Tang has established a record in the sport of 28 fights for 21 wins and seven losses, collecting along the way Hong Kong titles in the 54kg division (in 2010) and the 57kg division (2012).
"For my first fight I was very nervous but I was also very excited," says Tang. "I found that I loved this sport so much that I wanted to challenge myself and see what it was like to get into the ring and fight someone the way I had seen other fighters do.
"I kept pushing my coach to let me fight and when he did let me, I won. I felt really happy. My family still doesn't really support me - but at least they come every time and watch me fight."
On Saturday, Tang makes his first foray into the international ranks of the sport when he takes his place on the star-studded nine-bout Thai Fight World Battle card at Macau's Cotai Arena. The event is part of a global promotion of the sport that will see a Thai Fight Championship series hosted by nine cities across Asia and Europe. Tang will face off against Japan's Yusuke Otahara in a 58kg division bout. Others on the card include Thailand's reigning world welterweight champion, Sudsakorn Sor Klinmee, and former world super welterweight champion Yodsanklai Fairtex.
As part of a push to educate fans in the history of the sport, seven of the bouts - including Tang's - will see the fighters wrap their hands in rope, in the traditional Muay Thai style, rather than use western-style boxing gloves.
Tang believes it will add to the excitement both in and outside the ring - although he admits it might get a little too much for some, hence he's telling his family to this time stay at home.
"I know they'll think it is too dangerous so I am telling them not to come," he laughs. "But we know what we are doing. It's a challenge for the fighters, especially us as we are not as used to this as others might be."
Tang is part of a three-strong local contingent heading to the Venetian next weekend and he'll be joined by three-time Hong Kong champion Kenneth Lee, fighting in the 59kg division, and Tony Chu in the 72kg division.
As well as his promising career in the ring, Tang has expanded his passion for the sport into a career outside the action, with a full-time job as a trainer at the Hayabusa gym in Central.
"I'm a very out-going guy," he says. "So this sport is perfect as that's what Muay Thai fighters tend to be. It's a sport that keeps you active and uses every part of your body and that's why I was attracted to it in the first place."
It certainly keeps Tang busy. As well as his work commitments, he spends an hour running each day and four to five hours working out in the gym, combining strength and flexibility exercises with weights and plenty of action in the ring.
The pure physical demands - and rewards - of the sport have helped it become a staple offering at gyms across Hong Kong and around the world.
The Thai Fight Championship series was started at the behest of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2011 as a means of directing the country's youth away from drug use and as the event goes global, organisers are hoping to spread this positive message.
Count Tang among the converted.
"I have found something I love to do and it has become my life," he says. "It's a dream come true for me to fight alongside all these fighters who have come from all over the world. I can't wait."