Tracy mixed martial arts fighter Khai “The Shadow” Wu went to Taiwan last summer for a professional match and ended up staying for six months as an American MMA ambassador.
Wu, 24, a 2013 graduate of Kimball High, has been back and forth to Taiwan, where his family is from, over the past few years and is always impressed with the regard that Taiwanese fight fans have for American martial arts stars.
“Basically the market is growing out there,” Wu said during a recent interview after returning to Tracy. “They managed to find me and used me to grow the market, because I can speak Mandarin and English. A lot of the fighters out there, they actually ended up gravitating toward my fighting style and developed a liking toward me.”
Wu, who has a 6-2 record in his professional MMA career, traveled to Taiwan in August for a match against Filipino fighter Jason Vergara (3-1). The Aug. 31 match was held under the Way of the Dragon/Chinese Taipei MMA Association promotion at Taipei Gymnasium in front of about 1,500 fans.
Wu was still recovering from a leg injury, but he won the match in the second round with a submission hold. It turned out to be just the first part of his adventure. On previous trips to the island, he had gained the attention of the Taiwanese media, so he was prepared to stay for a couple more months to do podcasts and interviews in advance of his next fight, Nov. 12.
When the fight was rescheduled for Jan. 12, Wu weighed the option of returning to Tracy for his training or staying put to become immersed in Taiwan fight society. He chose the latter, and his decision paid off.
“I was going to stay out there and train with the local fighters, who are all mainly amateurs,” Wu said. “I would be the one running my own fight practice and taking a chance and gambling with these guys, hoping they could prepare me well enough.”
His trainer and striking coach Steven Chao came back to California after the Aug. 31 fight, so it would be the first time Wu had prepared for a pro fight without his usual support system from Guerilla Jiu Jitsu in Pleasanton and Omni Movement in Richmond.
Over the next few months, Wu developed a working relationship and friendship with three local fighters, Chuan-Sheng Chuang, 19; Yu-Sheng Lee, 26; and Bo-Han “Daniel” Chen, 31. All three flew to California with him to stay at his home in Redbridge and continue training with him and Chao. Lee and Chen are also pro fighters.
“A lot of fighters come out here to train and go back there to fight, and that’s how we elevate the scene of MMA in Taiwan a lot faster,” Wu said. “Basically we’re investing in these guys.”
Among his media appearances, Wu was invited to give a TEDx talk, where he would provide a motivational story for an audience in Taipei. He was part of TEDxNeihu, an event at the Xue Xue Institute in the Neihu district of Taipei, on Dec. 14.
“The people that got selected to talk with me at the event are celebrities and entrepreneurs doing some very fascinating things in the world. For me to be on the list was very surreal,” Wu said. He spoke on the topic of “Playing the cards you are dealt.”
During the 17-minute talk, he encouraged the audience members to find their own unique attributes and put them to use toward success.
“Many times I wish I was taller, faster, stronger. I wish I had a different set of cards. I wish I could deal it back, but then I just played the hand I was dealt in life and look how it turned out. It’s pretty awesome,” he said.
Wu completed his trip at the next Way of the Dragon event Jan. 12, again at the Taipei Gymnasium. This time he was the main event in his featherweight bout against Sung Min Kim (1-2) of South Korea and won on a unanimous decision.
This crowd was bigger than the Aug. 31 event, about 2,000 people, Wu estimates. It was promoted through local media, and the fans were fired up for the Taiwan-Korea rivalry.
“The energy the crowd brought was, I’ve never seen anything like it. This is the first time I’ve seen the crowd interact with a fight like that,” Wu said, adding that stands erupted in cheers when Wu landed his strikes and people booed when Kim would sit on the mat to avoid getting hit. “Right after the fight ended, I was kind of wishing that I had got a finish, to have knocked out or submitted him, but then, now looking back on it, I think it was good for the market, it was good for the whole spectacle, to be as exciting as three rounds and just to showcase that I didn’t get lucky. I didn’t get lucky knocking him out, lucky submitting him. I just beat him all around, stand-up, grappling.
“I felt my advantage was I was a lot faster than him,” he added. “I was able to land strikes pretty precisely.”
Both Wu and Chao said that winning the fight was just one part of the triumph of them both going back to their families’ homeland and bringing a bit of American fighting style along for the trip.
“We envisioned this happening and we brought it to life,” Wu said. “We trusted each other and invested in each other and it worked.”
Chao added that focus and dedication were a big part of the equation for Wu.
“It’s not to say it was without any challenges,” he said. “He stayed persistent. It’s not like he’s an undefeated fighter, but he never lost sight of the goal.”