Luke Lessei will get his chance to shine when he steps onto ONE Championship’s global stage for the first time on Friday, Dec. 8, at ONE Fight Night 17.
The American star will compete in a featherweight Muay Thai duel against promtional veteran “Smokin” Jo Nattawut at the star-studded event, and he’s been reflecting on his introduction to combat sports while growing up in the Midwest ahead of his exciting debut..
“I came up in Iowa, middle of America, Midwest, USA, surrounded by cornfields. I grew up with a kind of traditional, hard-loving dad. He was a professional fighter as well,” Lessei told ONE.
“So he got me into martial arts and training when I was four. My childhood, most of my memories revolve around martial arts, being in the gym with my dad, and just growing up with a father training his son to do what he loves to do. And that’s basically been my entire life’s work.”
Lessei soon found he had a knack for the striking arts, but given the area in which he was training, he didn’t realize how good he truly was.
As mixed martial arts grew in popularity, his father’s gym began to get more talent walking through the doors. Seeing increased competition, Lessei upped his game as he matured into his body, and he soon developed power that would send grown men to the canvas.
“Some grown men start coming in, MMA starts getting a little bit bigger, and now I’m getting beat up in my own gym a little bit. So it’s like I wasn’t ever going to stop. But it’s like, ‘Okay, I have to be the best in my dad’s gym,’” he recalled.
“But it wasn’t like, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to be a professional fighter.’ It was like, ‘I just have to be the best in this place right now.’ And then from that, I started getting my first knockouts, you know, at 16 to 19 years old, started knocking people out. I started getting a little bit more man strength.”
As his skills improved, the amount of time he needed to train increased, which can be difficult for a teenager who wants to be out socializing with friends.
Missing out on that freedom was a tough thing for Lessei to come to terms with back then, but now, at 27 years old, he sees that he made the right decisions to forgo youthful mistakes.
“I’m gone every Friday night. Every Saturday morning, I’m at the gym. So like, I wanted to party a little bit. I mean, I’m from the Midwest, you know, there’s not anything to do here. Everyone here just drinks and parties, you know, there’s nothing to do. So I wanted to at least let loose and be a kid a little bit,” the American said.
“That was probably the hardest thing [to miss out on]. But then looking back, it’s like, yeah, that stuff was dumb. I’m happy I didn’t do that.”
As he moved into adulthood, Lessei knew he needed to expand his horizons to reach his true potential.
That meant leaving his Iowa homestead to seek out new experiences from better Muay Thai athletes. While it was difficult to move away and stop training with his father, the burgeoning star felt like it was the next step in what could be a fruitful career.
“I had to go find myself. I had to go find my own style. I was fighting exactly how my dad wanted to fight me for a really long time. And it’s funny enough, this was the hardest time, but also, I grew the most within this amount of time, because I was like, ‘Whoa, I really am figuring out how I want to fight,’” Lessei stated.
“And the hardest time of not being able to train with my dad, but then figuring out… it was time to graduate from my dad. Eventually, I had to become a man.”
Even as he grew and progressed as an athlete, “The Chef” struggled to reach the true heights of his sport. Frustration set in as a result, and he felt that winning gold wasn’t enough of a goal.
But when children entered the picture, Lessei’s passion was renewed, as he wanted to build a stable foundation for his kids. At ONE, he believes he now has the chance to achieve his dreams for both himself and his family.
“Because I’ve been doing it for so long, motivation, obviously, isn’t there all the time. I guess I didn’t have motivation for a while. And it just came back because I had my daughter. And then I had my son,” Lessei said.
“I became a father. I start seeing the light of where I could go in Muay Thai. I started getting noticed by ONE, and then I start falling in love with it again.”
“It sounds dumb, but I want to make money for them. You know, I’m from a small town, so being able to do Muay Thai and just support them, it’s the coolest thing ever.”
ONE Fight Night 17 airs live and free on Prime Video on Friday, Dec. 8. The action begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT and is free for all Amazon Prime subscribers based in the U.S. and Canada.
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