Enter “The Twin Dragons.”
Simply put, Josh and John Wang-Kim are collectively an MMA anomaly.
Their similarities aren’t just in looks, personalities, and goals. The two fighters’ respective bodies of work are nearly identical with extensive championship amateur records.
Oh yeah, and they’re twins.
The two brothers agree. They were destined to fight from a young age. At 16 years old, they first stepped into a dojo. That’s when their first formal training commenced, but the two brothers always have been passionate about fighting. It makes sense considering they are twins, after all.
Inspired by classic martial arts movies, the San Diego natives were drawn to the elements of combat sports long before they put on gloves.
“I feel like we were born into fighting,” Josh told MMA Junkie. “I don’t want to say fighting has been full return, but we were born into combat and violence and all the stuff from martial movies – Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan, (and) also the video games.
“We’d fight with each other and other people growing up, but it wasn’t until we found a love for it until we actually stepped into our first dojo that we actually grew true respect for the art.”
The decision to jump into martial arts was passion-fueled, but still difficult. Family members were stunned to hear the brothers would pursue fighting for a living rather than take the path of a traditional profession.
“Our mom was definitely very shocked when we took a very unconventional route,” John told MMA Junkie. “She wanted us to exceed her expectations (and) go to university to become a doctor or a lawyer or engineer. We just stuck to fighting. … It was a good thing that we did.”
That might be an understatement.
The Wang-Kim brothers sit atop a combined amateur record of 30-2. Eerily on brand, the twins split the record evenly at 15-1 a piece.
Their situation is unique, but the Wang-Kims wouldn’t have it any other way. They believe their success might even be hindered if they didn’t have one another. The nature of a typical ultra-competitive brother relationship has been magnified and ultimately catalyzes their success.
“It’s unprecedented for sure,” John said. “To even have twins in the same sport with a similar record. It’s kind of eerie. It’s definitely helped propel us to the top, motivating us to be competitive. Whenever I have an edge on my brother, he always wants to do the same with me, too.
“It literally propels us, like when I had my fastest knockout. I told my brother, ‘Beat that. Beat that record. Beat that time.’ Just to give us some sort of mental and physical drive – just some friendly competition.”
Josh, who competes at featherweight, echoed his bantamweight brother’s sentiments. Additionally, he described the value of being able to bounce ideas off one another.
“We have our sibling moments, our arguments, and our headbutts against each other, but it’s the competitive nature that helps drive us to get better,” Josh said. “Things like when we’re in class. If I don’t pick up some of the materials that was presented, he does. Later, we can drill it and vice versa.”
From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense to be grouped. The two brothers have nicknamed themselves “The Twin Dragons” in homage to their Chinese heritage. It’s not rocket science. The tandem is pretty much every promoter’s dream.
Sure, they’re grouped together outside of the cage. But just like everyone else, they’re individuals when the cage door closes – and as individuals, they thrive.
“My brother isn’t going to fight my fight for me,” John said. “I have to express how I feel in that moment – just me in (my) truest form. When we fight, we’re definitely individuals. When we talk, we’re definitely individuals. But when we are presented to the public, we’re together. We stand strong.”
This year, the twins plan on finally turning professional. There are a number of reasons why the Wang-Kim brothers took so many amateur fights before making the jump. Not one is bigger than experience, though.
“There’s one thing no one can take away from us, and that’s our experience,” John said. “… If you look at (Floyd) Mayweather, I think he had over 100 fights. (Vasyl) Lomachenko I think had over 300 fights on his amateur boxing record.
“They overlook these guys are well seasoned, well developed. Then when they get to the stage where the margin of error is very slim, they don’t destroy the competition effortlessly. That’s what we want to replicate.”
The slow, calculated burn has presented challenges, however. Namely, the twins have struggled to find willing opponents. With their resumes, fighters aren’t exactly jumping at the opportunity.
“It’s been hard, because everyone has been pulling out when they see our videos,” John said. “They see our record. It’s getting kind of frustrating, but we’re definitely being patient.”
“It’s very troubling starting our career and staying in limbo for so long,” Josh added.
On Saturday night, it’ll finally happen. The first Wang-Kim pro debut is on tap. Josh is up first, competing at WFC 119 in San Jacinto, Calif. It’s been a long road.
“I’m ready,” Josh said. “You’ve been planning and prepping for that big exam – for your SATs. You’ve been planning for years. When that day shows up, you’re just going to go ace it. … I’m ready to make a big splash in the big pond.”
John was booked for his pro debut at LFA 74 in August, but the bout was canceled prior to the event. While he doesn’t have an opponent or date quite yet, he affirmed his debut is coming.
“I’m going to make (my pro debut) as soon as possible,” John said. “… Honestly, I’m just glad we had some time to reflect, and now our careers are on the right paths. 2020 is going to be a big year for us. Stay tuned.”
Short term, the Wang-Kims are looking to compile victories en route to a successful calendar year. But like many up-and-comers, their long-term goals run much deeper. It’s about the challenge.
“When Josh and I won so much we accumulated all the titles around the amateur scene, we just came to realize it’s not really about the belts,” John said. “It’s about fighting the best and going through the challenges of seeing who are the best and becoming the best.
“Obviously, we’re definitely fighting for the money because that helps, but it’s really just to challenge ourselves. (Let’s) see if we can achieve greatness. The belt is just a little side toy you can show off to your friends.”
Unlike many of their up-and-coming counterparts, they aren’t solely focused on fortune. Sure, the money will be great. But more than anything, the Wang-Kims hope to exemplify to future generations what it means to be a true martial artist.
“Belts, UFC gold – those are the pinnacle accolades of the sport we’re in,” Josh said. “The belt means more than just having the belt, though. The belt is a symbol of you being the best, but you can still be the best inside and outside the octagon. I just want to be the best I can be – the best martial artist I can be and the best athlete I can be.
“… Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have that belt hung in my house. But in the end, it’s just a belt. Your legacy and the history you make is going to last longer than the belt.”