From a young age Australian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Soa ‘The Hulk’ Palelei had to roll with the punches to survive. Sent to Tonga to become a man, Soa was thrust into poverty as he worked on the family farm alongside his cousins. Soa’s luck took a turn for the worse when he returned from Tonga to live with his short-tempered uncle in Newcastle, New South Wales.
The 11-year-old faced an almost daily barrage of beatings with anything his uncle could find, from electrical cords to planks of wood. He ran away to survive, living it rough on the streets for months.
After reconnecting with his parents, Soa’s life began to turn around. He excelled at sports and soon joined a UK-based professional rugby team.
Although he abandoned his dreams of playing rugby to support his young family, he later rose to the top of his game in MMA. He made his professional debut in 2002, winning his first seven fights. This led to a contract in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but with the loss of his first UFC fight Soa’s world came crashing down. He sank into depression and faced one of his toughest battles yet — overcoming his personal demons to return to form.
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