Growing up as a minority in a foreign country is usually not an easy thing for anyone, even those who would eventually become future fighters inside a ring, such as Arnold Khegai.
Born to Korean parents in Ukraine and growing up in Odessa, Khegai's childhood was one filled with bullying and a rough environment. Khegai had to spend his childhood in what he called "the worst part" of the area he lived in, a neighborhood called Moldavanka, filled with violence and gang activity.
“It was unusual for a Korean to grow up in the Ukraine and there was a small minority of Koreans there. Growing up, people would point fingers and say, ‘Look at that boy, he’s different, he’s Korean,’" Khegai told Fightful in an exclusive interview via a translator.
Khegai eventually had no choice but to find a way to defend himself from any would-be bullies and external forces that could pick on him for being different. That is when he discovered combat sports, going to a nearby Thai boxing gym and learning the craft of the sport.
“Close to my house, there was a Thai boxing gym and I wanted to fight. I had kids pick on me and I wanted to learn to defend myself and measure that aggression in a productive way. That gym was close to my house and that’s how it all started,” Khegai said.
Eventually, Khegai learned that he was a gifted fighter, becoming a world-class Thai boxer. Having been Ukraine's national amateur champion and becoming a two-time world champion, Khegai would soon win the hearts and earn the respect of the community that would treat him like an outsider.
But after a knee injury in 2015, Khegai would soon turn his attention to professional boxing. So far, it's been nothing but complete success for the 26-year-old Korean. After 14 fights, Khegai sports a 13-0-1 and is on the verge of building a fanbase in the United States thanks to his upset win over Adam Lopez on Showtime's ShoBox: The Next Generation show back in March in what was Khegai's first boxing fight in the U.S.
Now, Khegai is set to return to the U.S. for another fight on ShoBox on November 16 when he faces Jorge Diaz Jr. Not only is Khegai looking forward to getting back in the ring on U.S. soil, but also continue building a reputation as an exciting up-and-coming star that could potentially fight for a world title. For now, it's just a matter of getting further acclimated with a new country that is much more open-minded and accepting of people that comes from all walks of life.
"This is the second fight in the United States and [I] love it and this is the atmosphere that [I] love. I can’t wait to come here again and perform in front of the American boxing fans on American television in front of the American media. Here in the United States, people don’t have that kind of problem as much as I did,” Khegai said.
When it comes to his next opponent in Diaz, Khegai expects fireworks when the two face off in Philadelphia.
“Predictions are hard to make, but based on what I’ve seen, he’s an aggressive fighter and likes to mix it up. That’ll play into [my] game and I hope to land the knockout. Whichever way it goes, it’s going to be an exciting fight and I’m ready to show the world I’m ready to fight the world champions and knock them out one-by-one,” Khegai said.
Khegai's fight will be part of a televised card that includes fights between Jaron Ennis vs. Raymond Serrano and Kenneth Sims Jr. vs. Samuel Teah.