Some people are just born to fight. And, in some parts of the world, they might be more inclined to fight than in other areas. One of those regions is Southeast Asia, where some of the most exciting fighting modalities, including Muay Thai and Lethwei, were originated.
Western Australia’s Danial “Mini T” Williams might have spent the majority of his life in Perth, but he was born in Thailand, which is where his mother is from.
“I would have been eight months old when I moved to Australia,” Williams told Combat Press. “My dad’s Aussie. My brother was born in Australia. They went straight to Thailand when he was one year old, and, then, three years later, I was born, and they came straight back here.”
Williams has always been athletic. He was involved in a lot of team sports growing up. It was all about camaraderie, being outside, and just having fun.
“I played everything, man – except baseball,” said Williams. “A lot of my friends played baseball, and I actually wanted to do that, but I played Australian rules football. That was my goal as a kid – to get into the Australian AFL league. I did basketball. I did cricket. I was quite passionate with them as well. You name it, man – freaking all the team sports. I love my rugby union. I did that for a little bit. I did it all – tennis, golf. I’ve just always been a sports fan.”
However, while team sports were a big part of his life, the Thai-Australian’s lifestyle has largely been shaped around combat sports.
“I’ve always been pretty interested in martial arts,” Williams explained. “I’ve got family members, like my uncle and both sides of the family, that were actually like into boxing or Muay Thai. My mom’s Thai, and she grew up with her brother doing Muay Thai his whole life and having a gym at their house even. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in martial arts. Love the Bruce Lee films. Loved the Jean-Claude Van Damme films growing up. My brother was the very first person doing karate at like three or four years old. Then, as I got to an age where I could do it, that’s when I started as well. So, it’s kind of just always been one of my earliest memories, being interested in martial arts. I always wanted to follow that path. I wanted to be a champion one day.”
Karate might have been Williams’ first foray into martial arts, but that was largely due to what they had available in Western Australia. He always knew where his roots were, so when the opportunity presented itself, he wasted no time.
“I always wanted to do it,” said Mini T. “Being Thai, I saw my first fight night in Thailand that sparked my interest. Like, ‘I want to do that one day – jump in the ring.’ I was like 7 years old when I saw my first match on a Thai holiday in a village. There was no Muay Thai around me and then we saw a sign in the local shopping center saying, ‘Muay Thai classes – kids, adults,’ and then, straight away, dad rang them up and then took us down. I think that was about 11 years old, and then stuck with it ever since. That was something I’ve always wanted to do, compared to all the martial arts, and then it finally came available within driving distance to our home.”
It is always important for a child, especially one with big aspirations, to have a good family and support system around him. In Williams’ case, he got very lucky with the hand he was dealt. His parents allowed him to do the things that interested him, and his brother has always been there for him as well. In addition, he grew up in a great community.
“I had a good foundation of friends,” Williams elaborated. “I had a pretty blessed upbringing, to be honest. My family always let me play any sport I wanted to play. I guess only down side of things was that I always felt a little bit different, because, you know, it’s kind of like I wanted to be a white Australian boy growing up, like all my friends, and I was an Asian-looking kid. That was the only difference – a few comments here and there on the footy field, but it’s nothing where I had any sort of bad traumas or suffering. It was quite a blessed upbringing overall.”
Williams’ brother, who is three years older, was the first to compete in martial arts. He started around 14 years old, and the little brother followed in his footsteps. As they got older, Williams’ brother stopped competing, and went the girlfriend and job route. However, the younger Williams, while he did earn a Bachelor’s degree in criminology from Murdoch University, decided to make a career out of fighting.
Williams began his fighting career in Muay Thai, but while he would sometimes fight really often, he would also have big gaps between fights. That’s when he decided to expand his combat sports training.
“Right near my house, there was an MMA gym that popped up, and I was a UFC fan,” Williams explained. “I loved Chuck Liddell, and I thought that was awesome – like no-holds-barred fights. That just made me think that’s just like realistic, real fighting, and the gym opened up right near my house, like two minutes away. There was a free trial, and I’d always wanted to try it. I wasn’t having any Muay Thai fights at the time, so it was the perfect time to do it.
“Wrestling wasn’t a big thing here in WA. The gym was only jiu-jitsu for an MMA gym – it was only jiu-jitsu and striking. Now they’ve got wrestling, obviously, but it was just jiu-jitsu. A [48-kilogram] girl was the first girl I rolled with, and she actually whooped my ass, man. And, that was a big thing, too. I really got instant respect for the sport, because I was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to go with this girl. I’ll go light on her,’ and everything. She whooped my ass.”
For a guy who has a background in karate and Muay Thai, nothing is more humbling than that first roll on a jiu-jitsu mat. Jiu-jitsu is a sport for all shapes and sizes, and experience trumps size every single time. And, while there might not be any striking, it is far from the safer sport.
“Coming from Muay Thai straight to jiu-jitsu, it was just a series of injuries,” Williams said. “I never got injured in Muay Thai – maybe a hand injury. But, when I went to jiu-jitsu, it’s like neck sprained, my knee popped. I had like MCL, LCL, ankle – you name it. I don’t know why I kept doing it, but I never got so much injured.”
About five years after adding the ground game into his training regimen under the tutelage of Ben Vickers at Scrappy MMA, Williams decided to try his hand at an MMA fight. He already had plenty of experience in kickboxing, with a pro record of 24-7 and a handful of gold, but it was time to expand his competition experience. He had an amateur MMA fight back in May 2018, which he lost by submission only 44 seconds into the first round. However, he made his pro debut for the same promotion, Eternal MMA, only four months later, and he won by third-round knockout.
In the following 17 months after his pro debut, Williams lost one fight by decision, but he followed that up with two more knockouts in a row. The second one was in Feb. 2020, and then COVID-19 hit and fighting went to the wayside.
Australia’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most extreme on a global scale in terms of lockdowns and restrictions. In fact, the quarantine requirements were nothing short of draconian. Because of this, many people weren’t even able to make it to the gym. However, the pubs were still open, and that’s where Williams found himself reaching out to ONE Championship, trying to get something going. After two years on the bench, Wiliams had his prayers finally answered.
Having not fought a pro Muay Thai fight in nearly five years, ONE decided to give him a shot in their patented Circle. And, it was a rather large shot. Williams faced the ONE flyweight Muay Thai champion Rodtang Jitmuangnon in a non-title fight in Apr. 2021. Williams lost by unanimous decision, but he was under contract and exactly where he wanted to be. In Feb. 2022, he made his ONE MMA debut, picked up a knockout win, and fought to a decision victory in April. He went from two years on the bench to a three-round war against a legendary Thai fighter and two MMA wins, bringing his pro MMA record to 5-1.
“It’s happened really fast, man,” said Williams. “I sent them an e-mail right when it was through the COVID times here, and there weren’t any fights. I was on my cell phone when I was at the pub like multiple times a week, because they stopped allowing work. It was just a pretty wild year for me through that, and I kind of just randomly sent them an e-mail after a pub night with my friends. The next minute, they offered me Rodtang. I had to quickly get ready for that, and then it’s just been fight after fight. So, it was kind of a wicked thing, where I was for a year, in a pretty unhealthy place. With what I’m doing now, it’s just being pretty fast and awesome, and I know it’s just going to keep going.
“It’s always been all or nothing for me. Even in my Muay Thai years, it was just like fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. And, then I would stop for a year and a bit, and then it’s fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. This time, I hope it just gets me to the top pretty quick.”
Well, Williams is about to fight for the third time in only five months tomorrow night when he faces China’s Zhaxi Zelang in a strawweight MMA bout at ONE 159. On paper, Zelang appears to be Willaims’ most experienced MMA opponent yet, with a record of 16-6-1. He also holds a large amount of wins by finish, while only being stopped twice. However, Williams dug into his next opponent’s fighting background.
“I looked at his record, and thought, ‘this guy must be good,’” said Williams. “But then, I looked a little bit deeper, and there’s a lot of fights he had where there’s like debut guys and stuff like that. He just seems like a good all-arounder from the tape we could find. I had a friend that understands the language – the Mandarin, or Chinese, I don’t know what dialect. He typed that in on YouTube, and we found some tape on him, and he’s a pretty good all-arounder. He’s quick on his game. He’s more of a counter-striker, I find. He wants to draw you in. I just got to be careful on the ground as well, because he’s had some submission victories.”
Williams’ only MMA loss was by decision, so when his last fight went the distance, he had some thoughts about his performance that he took back to the gym. Still young in his MMA career, the 29-year-old knew he needed to make improvements to avoid his next one going to the judges.
“It’s good to get the wins and learn from the wins, instead of learning from losses,” Williams said. “But, for me, it was kind of like watching tape. I’ve got to like switch that Muay-Thai brain and really, like, set-up my shots a bit more and not walk into these takedowns so easily. Because I’m trying to throw like full power with everything in it. I got taken down a little bit with ease the last fight. I got my back controlled, and so it’s just things I really want to work on in those takedown transitions, and then working on the ground. So, that’s what I’ve been focusing on this camp is a little bit more defensive wrestling, defensive jiu-jitsu, and actually being smart watching what he was doing. That’s where I want to improve this fight is just feel a little bit more patient and pick my shots. Don’t be too predictable.”
Williams loves MMA, and he has plans for that aspect of his ONE career. However, he also has his sights set on ONE’s strawweight Muay Thai division, where he has yet to make an appearance. Earlier this year, Italy’s Jospeh Lasiri scored a huge upset over Prajanchai PK.Saenchai to pick up the title, and Williams sits as the fifth-ranked contender in the division.
“I want the Muay Thai world title,” said Williams. “I want to beat this guy and call out the Muay Thai world champ, because that’s someone that I know I can definitely beat. And then, I want to chase one of the top-five MMA guys in my strawweight division. So, in the next six months, I want to be able to do that and see my name in the top-five rankings for strawweight MMA, and then also have the Muay Thai ONE world title in the strawweight division as well.
“After the Rodtang fight, man, I hated having to worry about takedowns and throwing heavier shots, so I just want to do that again. I’m just seeing some of the fighters in the strawweight [Muay Thai] division that like to move forward as well. Those fights excite me, and I think they’re like fan-favorite fights.
On Friday, Jul. 22., ONE 159 kicks off at 6 a.m. ET, live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium and airing on ONE’s website. Williams and Zelang will kick off the main card, and the Aussie wants fans to know one thing.
“I’m going to bring some beautiful violence,” said Williams. “It’s going to be a finish.”
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