by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
There aren’t many Taekwondo fighters who successfully transition to mixed martial arts, but since committing to MMA seven years ago, James Moontasri is looking to buck that trend.
Moontasri, also known as “The Moonwalker,” boasts an 8-2 professional record. He’s won by knockout (three wins), submission (three wins) and by decision (two wins). His two losses were by split-decision.
The 27-year-old half-Korean, half-Thai fighter is up against Kevin Lee tonight in San Diego, Calif. at UFC Fight Night 71, which you can catch at 7 p.m. PST on Fox Sports 1. Both fighters weighed in earlier today, and neither wanted to back down first.
It’s hard to believe the stone-faced fighter is the same bright and jovial guy who sat down with us last Friday.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Moontasri and his family eventually settled in Colorado Springs, Colo., where his mother initially put him through piano and trumpet lessons at a young age. However, once taekwondo entered his life, Moontasri knew he was born to be a fighter.
The half-Korean fighter was only 14 years old when he competed at the 2003 Pan American Games for the national taekwondo team trials. The following year, Moontasri captured a bronze in middleweight at the 2004 Pan American Championships. In 2007, he earned silver medal at the Pan American Games and was also named the U.S. Taekwondo Male Athlete of the Year.
Although he didn’t make the U.S. Olympic taekwondo team in 2008, Moontasri became interested in mixed martial arts after watching Lyoto Machida fight in the UFC on TV.
“Machida walked out in his karate gi, with his black belt,” Moontasri recalled. “Right then and there, I knew that was something that I can do, because there’s really no professional level for taekwondo … [even] once you go to the Olympics, which is awesome.”
He added, “Seeing someone like Machida, who’s very respectable and has a traditional karate background, I felt like this is something I could achieve. As a fan, and being able to train with him now every single day, it’s still like a dream come true to train with one of your heroes.”
Anderson “The Spider” Silva, left, grappling with Moontasri. (Photo via James Moontasri/Facebook)
Moontasri joined NuPacific Partners and Black House MMA—a training facility that represents a number of elite fighters, including Machida and Anderson Silva as well as twin brothers Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and Antônio Rogério Noguiera. After years of training, Moontasri now boasts a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a black belt in Muay Thai and a 4th dan black belt in taekwondo. At the same time, he says his passion also involves being able to teach martial arts, which he occasionally does at the Elite Training Center in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Tonight’s bout will be Moontasri’s fourth in the UFC. Later this week, the Korean-Thai American will be making his way to South Korea for a taekwondo exhibition. He hopes to be heading back later this year for UFC’s fist event in Korea, the UFC Fight Night Seoul, on Nov. 28.
With a good showing tonight, chances are that Koreans will be able to see the Moonwalker in person.