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Jeon Chan-mi takes a swing at UFC title

After debut loss, she is more intent than ever on being champ
July 31,2017
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[YONHAP]
Ever since Jeon Chan-mi began mixed martial arts (MMA) in 2015, she hasn’t lost a match - that is, until her Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut on June 10.

“She had a really hard time,” said her trainer, Kim Dae-hwan. “She shed some tears after the fight.”

That night at UFC Fight Night 110 in Auckland, New Zealand, Jeon became the youngest fighter in the active roster at age 19, losing 30-27 in a unanimous decision against J.J. Aldrich. But she remained stoic when asked about her loss.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Jeon said. “It was the most unstrained fight I’ve ever had.”

Jeon added, “I have an aggressive style, but I was outfighting because Aldrich is a left-handed fighter. It was my first time outfighting and my first time going up against a lefty.”

Adding to her troubles, Jeon was a flyweight as an MMA fighter, meaning 57 kilograms (125.6 lb) and below, but when she signed with the UFC, she entered the straw-weight division, meaning 48 to 52 kilograms, and since she was only given two weeks before her debut match, she struggled with her diet.

“Normally, Jeon maintained her weight about four to five kilograms above the flyweight division,” Kim said. “But by changing to straw-weight, she had to lose 10 kilograms.”

Jeon ultimately failed to make weight and had to return part of the fight money. Now, less than three months since her debut match, Jeon faces her second match, scheduled for Sept. 23 against Syuri Kondo in Saitama, Japan.

“I can’t lose another match,” Jeon said. “I’ll try my hardest.”

Jeon had her first interaction with martial arts in the fifth grade when her father suggested she learn Muay Thai. While Jeon was hitting a punching bag, Kim set up a sparring match against a boy her age, and when she won, Kim said he saw the makings of a world champion. Her father initially objected to her training in mixed martial arts, but changed his mind after she persisted.

In the eighth grade, she became the youngest Muay Thai champion in Korea, but she knew the road ahead wouldn’t be easy and that to support herself she would need another job. Even Ronda Rousey, UFC’s top female fighter, had a part-time job at first. So Jeon attended nursing school while continuing her training.

When she had to take a break due to a broken collarbone, she realized how much the sport meant to her.

“I wanted to train more than ever while resting from an injury,” Jeon said. “So I worked part-time and went to the gym afterwards everyday. I finally decided to make my professional debut in the 11th grade with the goal of becoming a UFC champion.”

After her MMA debut, she won five straight matches, four of which were first-round knockout victories. In 2016, she became the ALL FC flyweight division champion. Now, two years on, she has signed with the UFC and is one step closer to her goal.

“I want to fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland,” Jeon said. “After, I want to win the flyweight division and bantam weight division titles.”

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]