Enter the electrifying world of mixed martial arts with King of the Octagon, a manhwa that promises to pack a punch. Meet Hwiseong, the talented and charismatic protagonist whose journey in the MMA world is just getting started. There, the passionate athlete clashes with tough opponents, tough coaches, and his equally tough love interest. But the world of MMA isn’t just about fiery passion and cutthroat competitions. The story also delves into the realities of professional sports, from weight control to contract negotiations. With humor, heart, and plenty of adrenaline-pumping action, King of the Octagon will leave you on the edge of your seat. Are you ready to step into the Octagon and join the fight?
Hwiseong Lee is a charming protagonist in his early twenties who works at a 24-hour store. During his one-time shift—the only one we get to see, in any case—he’s challenged by the questionable demand of an outraged middle-aged lady customer and an onslaught of invisible mosquitoes. We need not worry about Hwiseong’s mental and physical well-being, though, because he’s perfectly equipped to handle both the lady and the bugs. With the sizable chest and shoulders of a bouncer and the sassy attitude of a pubescent teenager, Hwiseong repels the woman’s fierce verbal attacks with ease. And with the biggest fly swatter in existence—one that would easily kill end-of-the-world zombie flies—he clobbers the imperceptible insects mercilessly. Once both nuisances are taken care of, Jeonghwan, the shop owner’s son, who’s also Hwiseong’s friend, shows up with a black eye. The bruise directs our attention from customer service battles and pest control to the matter we’ve been waiting for: mixed martial arts, or simply, MMA.
Share The Love
Even though MMA in its modern form is relatively new, pitting different combat sports against each other has a long history. If we are to believe the various resources, the first sport, which used a combination of boxing and wrestling, dates back to ancient Greece and was called pankration. Looking into the history of MMA is like going on a tour of different martial arts styles. You come across extinct martial art forms like Bartitsu, great names like Bruce Lee, or crucial fights in MMA history, like the bout between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki in 1976. One thing is clear: MMA isn’t a single particular discipline. As the name suggests, fighters with different combat sport backgrounds step into the ring to find out who is the strongest. Consequently, the combatants must be well-versed in several styles and techniques. This is also one of the first things we learn about this sport: MMA is legion.
Jeonghwan could easily make a living as a haircare model with his silky, wavy hair and stylish cut. However, his true love is MMA. When Hwiseong asked him why he’s so crazy about it even though he gets beaten up every day, he replied, “Words can’t express how addictive it is.” Maybe you’ve experienced this too? The indescribable joy that makes your heart skip a beat, your eyes sparkle, and your cheeks blush in bliss. And maybe you’ve felt an eagerness to share your excitement with others. Well, Jeonghwan is no different; he wished for his friend to experience the exhilarating feeling of hitting and getting hit. But Hwiseong has had his share of encounters with fist fights and declined the offer. Luckily, Jeonghwan knew exactly how to rope in his friend and invited him to his pro-debut fight.
The Thrill Of First Contact
On the day of the fight, when Hwiseong arrived at the venue, he passed the friendly security guard and walked down the stairs into the underground. As I scrolled along with him, each panel showed a step of Hwiseong’s descent into the dark. With every stride he took, my heart pounded against my chest in mounting anticipation. When he finally arrived at a door, I held my breath. What will await me on the other side? Will the manhwa fulfill my expectations, or will it turn out to be thirty-something episodes torture until I’ve gathered enough material for this article?
Opening the door with a creak, a bright light flooded the dark entrance. The subsequent elongated panel showed a boisterous crowd and the spine-tingling scene of an ongoing fight. “Wow!” was my first thought. And with a sigh of relief, I released the pent-up air in my lungs, thinking, “Yesss! This is exactly what I was hoping for!”
Hwiseong’s eyes glistened with exhilaration. With clenched fists and a racing heart, he eagerly followed the fighters’ exchange of heavy blows. Contrary to his earlier words, it was clear now that he longed to step into the octagon. And who would have thought that he’d fight inside the cage this very evening? When I read through the comment section, I realized many others were also captivated by the thrill of this scene, not just Hwiseong and me.
“I can tell this could be a fun ride 💫“ (☆Galaxyowl☆, Ep. , March 8, 2023)
“I’m liking this already” (Tiajuan Mitchell, Ep. 1, March 8, 2023)
“U won a fan. Subscribe button ✅” (Wisam._xo, Ep. 1, December 25, 2023)
By the way, not every MMA cage has the honor of calling itself the “Octagon.” In the Professional Fighters League (PFL) all competitions take place in the PFL’s Decagon, a polygon with ten sides of specific measurements. Bellator MMA uses a circular cage. The ultimate (and largest) MMA promotion worldwide is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and only UFC competition spaces can be called the Octagon because “the octagonal competition mat and fenced-in design are registered trademarks […] under the UFC® brand name.” In the manhwa, the highest-ranking MMA organization would be the SFC. For now, though, we’re at a tournament of the Central League at the Elite Fight Club. I assume you wonder how Hwiseong, who came to watch the fight of his friend, ended up battling in the octagon himself. Well, it’s simple, really…
Diamond In The Rough
Jeonghwan had to prove himself against a very nasty opponent, Hyoseop Choi. Hyoseop is established as the villain and thus has no choice but to do something despicable. And indeed, when Jeonghwan lost consciousness and dropped to the floor during the fight, Hyoseop kept pounding him with his fists. The crowd gasped and stared in horror when the villain threw the intervening referee to the side and continued to clobber the unconscious Jeonghwan. Everyone was frozen in shock and unable to stop this dreadful, one-sided bashing. Everyone except Hwiseong. He dashed toward the cage, jumped over the fence, and, after a perfect superhero-landing, took Hyoseop into a chokehold and threw him across the cage. However, villains are hard to kill. Enraged by this treatment, he got back up to his feet to get revenge. But Hwiseong wouldn’t be the protagonist of this story if he couldn’t handle one angry brute. He protected himself against the furious attacks and, when he saw an opening, knocked Hyoseop unconscious with a precise and perfectly executed single punch to the chin.
Hwiseong’s intervention caught not only the attention of the security guards, who finally showed up only to throw Jeonghwan’s savior out of the venue. The director of the Elite FC was watching the entire scenario, too, and realized that he’d caught sight of a hidden gem. And thus begins Hwiseong’s journey to MMA stardom. I’m not saying this because I consulted my crystal ball, and now I want to spoil the series for you. No, the creators of the manhwa made coaches, friends, and opponents shower Hwiseong with praise—unbeknownst to himself, though. Now and again, they drop hints about his athletic future and praise his outstanding abilities, formidable instincts, and remarkable talent. And when the assistant coach thought to himself that “MMA is about to receive a rookie who’s capable of leading the market,” he pretty much gave away the series finale. Nevertheless, it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey! And based on the roughly thirty episodes I’ve read so far, we’ll have a thrilling, entertaining, and amazingly funny way ahead of us. But first—if you remember the beginning—Hwiseong must be convinced that he actually wants to do MMA.
The Art Of Persuasion
After having (partially) recovered from the beating, Jeonghwan met with Hwiseong to invite him to become an MMA fighter. He handed his friend the card of the Elite FC’s director, who wanted to train him to become a professional fighter. But Hwiseong was still indecisive. After all, his mind was burdened with worries. “Do you really think I can do it?” he asked Jeonghwan. This question took me by surprise, because everybody—the tournament’s spectators, the director, his friend, us readers—had seen what he’s capable of. And surely Hwiseong must also be aware of his One Punch Man abilities; why else would he risk jumping in the ring?!
Anyway, the creators somehow glossed over this incomprehensible and also inconsequential insecurity by immediately moving on to the next major concern: Hwiseong’s parents. “My parents went through a hard time whenever I would try sports.” Unfortunately, or luckily—depending on your preference for tear-jerking backstories—Jeonghwan wasn’t interested in his friend’s family life, and the emotional outing came to an abrupt end.
Instead of listening, Jeonghwan told Hwiseong about himself, how he got into MMA, and why he kept doing it, even though he knew he wasn’t cut out to rise to the top. “Like I told you before, it’s exhilarating. I don’t give a damn about destiny or becoming the champion. I’m just doing it because it’s fun and I love it. You don’t need some grand reason to do what you like, you know.” This simple yet powerful revelation was all Hwiseong needed to stop agonizing about his parents, clench his fist in determination, and rise to the challenge. As did his coat. Similar to Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation , Hwiseong’s outerwear seemed to have a mind of its own. Within a couple of panels, it grew in length so that it could properly flutter in the wind and add a dramatic effect as Hwiseong lifted himself from the bench and strode purposefully into the night.
Jeonghwan’s approach to sports resonated with the readers, too. Perhaps it’s relatable because most people engage in sports ‘just’ for the fun of it. Some do it for the gains, the thrill, or for their mental and physical health. The majority participate in sports as part of their leisure activities, while some might have ambitions of becoming professional athletes. However, only a few will actually try, and even fewer will succeed. ‘Failure’ needn’t always be a matter of lacking natural talent. There can be plenty of other obstacles barring your way to becoming part of the sporting elite or even hindering you from playing sports as a pastime. And this leads us to Hwiseong’s other major concern: money.
The Other Major Concern
The walk home under the starry sky curbed Hwiseong’s youthful enthusiasm because, when he sat down with the director to talk about his future MMA career, the conversation soon turned to financial issues. Training to become a professional athlete involves costs—costs for equipment and sportswear, gym fees, and coaches. Possibly, you’ll have a sports physician and dietician by your side. You’ll also have to consider participation fees and—not to forget—opportunity costs.
Hwiseong didn’t want to strain his parents with the financial burden of his training, so he bargained for as much income and discount as he could get. Thanks to his exceptional fighting skills, he was in high demand. The Elite FC director and CEO, the head coach, and later also the manager of X-1, the largest MMA organization in South Korea, wanted to seize the young man’s potential.
In this regard, Hwiseong is particularly fortunate. However, not all athletes possess such a flamboyant nature, and not everyone who aspires to become a pro is naturally gifted. When I delved into the relationship between poverty and sports, I quickly came across the term social inclusion. Roughly speaking, this means that those who are not part of ‘mainstream’ society get a chance to be included when they’re practicing a sport. The Homeless World Cup is an initiative that aims to achieve this goal. This international annual soccer/futsal tournament brings together people who face homelessness. It took place for the first time in Graz (Austria) in 2003 and has since been held all around the world. To enhance the chances of success for its mission, this event could use a lot more media coverage. I only found out about it recently when I did research on poverty and sports. If you aren’t interested in watching sports events but still want to know more about this World Cup, you could check out the movie The Beautiful Game which will air on March 29, 2024, on Netflix.
However, sports can also contribute to social exclusion. How? Well, if you lack the funds, you won’t be able to pay for fees and equipment. Some clubs might give you a hard time because you’re not part of their ‘class.’ Trying to make ends meet might swallow up all your potential spare time. And those with physical and mental disabilities face additional challenges. As you can see, sport has the potential to include and exclude individuals from certain parts of (the sporting) society. The interrelationship between sports and social inclusion/exclusion is complex and multifaceted, and I couldn’t even scratch the surface of this topic with this brief excursion. But if you’re interested, the book Sport and Social Exclusion by Michael Collins offers a comprehensive introduction.
Luckily, Hwiseong doesn’t have to worry about financing his passion because he’s an athletic genius, and money is soon piling up. So, we don’t have to worry either. But even before he struck gold, whenever talk turned to money—which happens rather often—it was combined with lighthearted banter and other comedic elements. This actually understates the seriousness of the subject, but by doing so, the manhwa remains true to being an easygoing read. Nonetheless, I appreciate that Hwiseong is portrayed as a down-to-earth character, someone who isn’t solely fueled by his passion for sports but also keeps a keen eye on practical issues.
“You gotta love how quickly he pounced on the free-interest, discounts, free gear.” (Siegfried_Witch, Ep. 9, March 15, 2023)
“I was waiting for “do you accept food stamps as payment”😂” (jordanmoney, Ep. 9, March 29, 2023)
“I honestly felt it in the panel when he was asking coach about all the financial aspects of it😂😭 he had to bounce back into the real world of discounts, loans and debts for a little while 💀😅” (Phirelotus, Ep. 9, April 9, 2023)
Despite being an exceptional athlete, head coach Sangguk Hwang tells Hwiseong that he sucks (at everything). To reach the top, he was subjected to a rigorous and strenuous training schedule under the stern and relentless guidance of his coaches. The training menu was surprisingly detailed, and the explanation of the techniques was easy to follow. I felt a lot smarter and more competent after reading through all the punching, kicking, and wrestling instructions. When assistant coach Seonghun Park explained how to throw a jab-straight combo, I wanted to jump right off the couch and try it out. We also got a lesson on stamina, and we were handed a detailed WOD (workout of the day). Wow! I wasn’t the only one delighted by the comprehensive teachings.
“hey I’m actually learning how to punch from this webtoon 😁” (ItsHELLTH(YT), Ep. 5, March 22, 2023)
“this is awesome! i did 3 different martial arts, and in every single one, that’s exactly how it felt to learn how to use a technique properly. from armbars and triangle chokes in bjj to high kicks in kickboxing, to crescent kicks in Tae Kwon Do. this comic perfectly shows how it feels to figure it out, and improve something you’ve been trying to perfect! I LOVE IT!!!” (Rogue R34P3R, Ep. 6, March 27, 2023)
“I might try that next time I go to the gym. This is giving me some great ideas to do for my Taekwondo training.” (Daniel Hex, Ep. 6, March 29, 2023)
“Artist do you do mma?” (Fischy_boy_, Ep. 6, March 29, 2023)
“I do kickboxing and this is some pretty solid advice” (Todd Canterberry, Ep. 6, March 29, 2023)
While receiving the coaches’ instructions, a feeling of nostalgia took hold of me as fond memories of my own martial arts training days appeared before my eyes. When a certain panel scrolled into view, I thought to myself, “Oh man, I remember this!” But how could I ever forget the never-ending minutes of whipping the battle rope up and down, the burning arms and shoulders, and the straining back muscles? And I vividly recalled my coach’s loud, enthusiastic voice right by my ear as he spurred me on to keep going. (I loved my coach; he was great!)
A Battle Of Proportions
The art style received praise and critique in the comment section. Scrolling through the episodes, I, too, realized that the art was as perplexing as it was capturing. The men in King of the Octagon were all proud owners of broad shoulders, a voluminous chest, and a thick neck atop which was placed a comparatively small head. Was I looking at the images from the wrong perspective? Could the perspective also be the reason for the fighters’ long calves, slim thighs, and non-existent butts? Who knows…? During the fights, the unproportional limbs snapped back into their well-proportioned state; or rather, the fast movements made any judgment impossible. In the heat of battle, arms and legs stretched into a blurred surface, accompanied by speed lines and whooshing air. I could hardly keep up with the fast exchange of blows and could only take a quick breath when one fighter stepped back to assess the situation. The fights were truly exhilarating.
“great art“ ([X]ッSMILEッ, Ep. 1, March 8, 2023)
“love the art style but aren’t the heads too little?” (cactusine, Ep. 1, March 8, 2023)
“I do hope the art get a little better ngl.. 😭💁🏽♀️ but so far I’m hyped!!” (ILov3iK3Kr3aM, Ep. 3, March 9, 2023)
“I don’t think your seeing things… he does have so tight butt cheeks 😩“ (When…. Did I ask? 😤, Ep. 3, March 9, 2023)
Now that I’ve seen several of Hwiseong’s matches, I can finally agree with the Elite FC director that he’s got all the right ingredients it takes to become a star: a cocky attitude, a provoking air, an entertaining nature, and, of course, the fighting skills.
Grease, Gary, And Cameos
The creators of the manhwa have what it takes to make a brilliant sports action story. The humor was great, and the jokes got me every time. I was continuously chuckling to myself unless a certain line or verbal exchange made me laugh out loud. The chibi-art panels are sweet and hilariously funny, and they would lend themselves perfectly as stickers for chat messages. The suspension is spellbinding, and the cliffhangers are killer! My only concern is that Hwiseong will turn out to be a Gary Stu. Based on the episodes I’ve read so far, he’s an all-overpowering fighter. In the long run, the outcome of matches and even the fights become boring when such a character is involved. So, I hope that the young, genius MMA prodigy will have to face a proper challenge at some point.
When you read the manhwa, you’ll inevitably come across various cameos in name and vision. Some of them are intentional, like the reference to MMA fighter Conor “The Notorious” McGregor or The Simpsons. Others were probably unintended, like Hyoseop’s likeness to Kasim, the red-haired opponent from The Boxer. I also felt Fast and Furious family vibes across the screen and was just waiting for a car—or a tank—to jump through the window into the gym.
“WHY THE HELL YOU ARE YOU MAKING SUCH A GOOD STORY!? AAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!!” (CajolingLace33, Ep. 2, March 24, 2023)
“did you grease your armpit!?!?!?!? I love this comic” (Stacy’s_mum, Ep. 13, January 16, 2024)
“Me Realizing there isnt another epsidoe: Ahhhhhhhhhhhbbhhhhhhhhh 😢 take my Heart” (Averymoon21, Ep. 15, April 28, 2023)
“Me sitting with a bag of chips in my chair with a blankey over me: watching hot six pack dude beat the shit out of somebody. My thoughts: I think its time to work out.” (🍋Lemon_Go🍋, Ep. 16, June 7, 2023)
“Holy fuck, I love this” (Lux258, Ep. 24, May 31, 2023)
“I honestly feel like I’m at the arena right now. Excuse me while I go get popcorn 🏃🏾♀️👀” (Desirey, Ep. 24, May 31, 2023)
“a gem is a gem just like this series” (flemmyflem, Ep. 13, April 12, 2023)
So far, King of the Octagon has kept me wonderfully entertained. It held my attention, made me laugh, and also made me smarter. Besides martial art techniques, I’ve also learned that Korean wrestling goes by the name of Ssireum. In 2018, Ssireum was listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Incredible what knowledge you can gain from doing what you love—that is, reading manhwa, right? Sadly, all this knowledge doesn’t allow me a peek into the future. And so, I dread the day when I’ll be forced to face the nerve-racking, week-long wait after a perfectly placed cliffhanger.
Considering that overall, the story is great, I’m inclined to forgive the huge time-leap wherein Hwiseong developed a love-hate relationship with Yujin Min, nicknamed the ‘goddess of MMA’. She’s the only female fighter, and since she’s also the only girl, it’s up to Yujin to take on the role of Hwiseong’s potential love interest.
Hwiseong’s Japanese opponent, Mizushima Yusuke, reminded me of the freakish Midōsuji Akira (Yowamushi Pedal). It might be a coincidence that both of them look equally grotesque, but it can’t be a coincidence that Mizushima is a member of Team Peach Boy. Well, strictly speaking, the name of his team is Momotaro. Momotarō is the name of a Japanese folktale about a boy called Momotarō (translated as peach boy) who was born from a peach and grew up to fight a group of evil oni (demons) with his three animal companions. Would that make Hwiseong an oni? And how does their fight end? Will peach boy Mizushima live up to his team’s name and succeed, or will ‘oni’ Hwiseong continue to roam free, challenging every warrior who dares to approach his island? I actually know the result of the bout, but I won’t spoil it for you. Best check out the fight for yourselves. It’s worth watching.
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