Given an opportunity to showcase his skills, Khai Wu is ready to make the most of the opportunity the Professional Fighters League has presented him with. The trainer of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes his SmartCage debut against Phil Caracappa at the PFL World Championship Finals on November 24.
Born in Tracy, California, Wu got into jiu-jitsu martial arts for self-defense. “The Shadow” noticed that he stood out in his area and that led to bullying when he was younger. Wu was inspired by a variety of combat sports stars, including Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, Pernell Whitaker, Saenchai, and Vasiliy Lomachenko. But, most importantly, he found success thanks to his mom.
Bullying separates you from the pack. Wu believes martial arts helped him forge a path to become an inspiring figure today, one who does TED Talks for the younger generation.
“Different isn’t always bad, but because you are different, you always stand out a little bit more,” Wu told The Sporting News. “Some kids project their trauma by projecting it onto you. At the time, it felt like I was just getting bullied. That upbringing was how being different means you have to find a way. That’s where jiu-jitsu martial arts came in.
“It doesn’t matter who you are in martial arts. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It really doesn’t matter about anything other than you on the mats and how you do. You could say you’re the best, but then it’s like put your money where your mouth is, and let’s train, you can’t fake it. It’s not like I can give you a black belt, and you can fake being a black belt. That’s the purity of martial arts. That’s what I love about it so much. Martial arts is kind of for everyone. You can make it for everyone.”
Wu turned pro in 2018. He competed for promotions like Bellator and Chinese Taipei MMA and has a 7-4 record, with one win via knockout and two via submission. The 28-year-old is 2-2 in his last four, with his most recent fight being a split decision victory over Kimbert Alintozon in February.
Using his skills, Wu was able to train with the likes of Zuckerberg, who has become a figure in the combat sports space. Zuckerberg wants to use META to help create the next great combat sports experience. He also trains with fighters like Alexander Volkanovski.
Zuckerberg is currently out of action due to a torn ACL, but while he’s not teasing a fight with Elon Musk, he works hard enough to inspire Wu.
“[Mark] takes it very serious. It’s not a gimmick, he’s a real hard worker,” Wu said regarding the skills of Zuckerberg. “You can’t fake it. He competed in a local tournament. It was a pretty good-sized tournament. He still had four or five matches. If he wasn’t good and signed up for a local tournament, he probably wouldn’t have done well. But he actually got gold and won three matches. In jiu-jitsu, especially if you’re not that good and you sign up for a random tournament, the chance of you winning is not very high.
“In jiu-jitsu, there’s no such thing as luck like boxing… You never really see white belts submit black belts. He’s a hard worker and takes it seriously, and a really nice guy. I get inspired when I see his work ethic. He’s doing so much. I was thinking, ‘I can see why you’re so successful. You probably got here because of this mentality…’ If I could even get 10% of what he has, I’d consider that pretty successful.”
Wu faces Caracappa, a New Jersey native with a 10-3 record. “The Hitman” turned pro in 2017 and has primarily competed with Ring of Combat. The Dana White’s Contender Series alum is 2-2 in his last four fights, with his last contest being a knockout loss against Valodia Aivazian in February.
Wu looks to inspire fight and non-fight fans outside the cage. He is also a huge comic book fan and used a famous Captain American line within his TED Talk: “If you keep running, they’ll never let you stop.” Wu has used that saying and embraced it in life, in and out of the cage.
“That quote stuck to me because when I was getting bullied, I remember the day it kind of stopped or bought me some time was when I stood my ground. I was like, hey, enough is enough,” Wu recalled. “In terms of martial arts, it’s like if you’re running away from your challenges, and outside of martial arts, if you’re running away from your job or your goals… It will always stop you from achieving them, but it will never stop chasing you. If you procrastinate, if you don’t do this or that… you get tired of running. Ultimately, ‘If you keep running, they’ll never let you stop,’ means don’t run from your problems. It’s not always about confronting your problems. It’s understanding where they come from. Sometimes there’s different ways around it (bullying/your problems). Look at the problem, address the issue itself, and a lot of it trickles down.
“When you talk about martial arts in general, you get submitted by a move or get punched by a certain strike. Now, if you keep running from that, you’re just going to get hit by that, and you’ll never have adapted to defending or blocking that attack. If you stand your ground and you kind of understand how it’s being thrown, if you understand the technique in the martial arts side of things, you learn to kind of deal with it. You learn to get tougher because you took the punch, and you learn to not be scared of it. Confronting your problems, the things that keep getting you… you keep running, it’s going to keep happening until you put your foot down. That quote stuck to me because I was always a runner. I was always afraid. You learn to be OK with being by yourself. I would like to think that the choices I made were correct at the end of the day.”