Fractured Vertebrae, 4 Herniated Discs Can't Stop Daniel Kim

Posted on January 15 2014


Courtesy of - by Frank Curreri

Life constantly hurls curveballs at us, as Daniel Kim’s long and odd path to pro fighting perfectly illustrates. If you’ve ever suffered a serious back injury, if your brain can fathom what it’s like to conquer a fractured vertebrae and four herniated discs, then you might appreciate Kim’s most improbable comeback.

“I’m just really grateful to be able to do this again,” said the 32-year-old son of Korean immigrants.

Kim is 15 years removed from the life-changing incident that suddenly reduced a promising athlete into a couch potato, yet he remains ever-mindful of how greatly that physical hardship has shaped his remarkable journey to Muay Thai’s big leagues. Though not much of a wrestler, a younger Kim was at the gym one day training takedowns with a group that included Yves Edwards (a standout fighter who would later become a fixture in the UFC).

“I had been up and out all night the night before,” recalls Kim (3-1-1), who collides with Josh Shepard (2-0) on Feb. 7 at Lion Fight 13. “I lifted him (Edwards) wrong and I heard all these cracks up my back. It felt like a zipper going up and down my back. I was stuck in like an L-shape for a long time. I couldn’t even stand up straight and when I did it hurt a lot. I had a constant pain in the back of my leg from my heel up to my butt. It took me a long time to be able to sleep soundly.”

Five years passed. Kim didn’t train any Muay Thai. Didn’t spar. Didn’t punch a bag. Didn’t shadow box. Didn’t do anything strenuous with any part of his body, for that matter. And he certainly didn’t entertain thoughts of a comeback.

“It was a long time but I finally had surgery to fix it,” he said.

A few years later the surgically-repaired Kim got that itch to return to the Muay Thai gym. His goal was modest: To punch the bag.

One day a coach encouraged Kim, then 24, to hit pads with him.

“No, I don’t think I should,” Kim said, echoing advice from his doctors. “But one day I decided to hit pads with him and ended up throwing up. I hit pads again during that first week and kept throwing up. But I felt good, so then I started sparring. I was feeling and moving good. And then that turned into me competing. I didn’t expect to be able to do this again but I am. Crazy, huh? But feel really fresh because for seven years I didn’t do anything. I’m in my prime right now.”

Kim embarked on his amateur career at age 25. He amassed a 14-8 record before turning pro and is now preparing for the stiffest test of his career. The speedy Shepard, despite moving up five pounds in weight for the fight at 160-pounds, has predicted he will knock out Kim, who trains under legendary fighter and trainer Jongsanan “Woodenman” (real name Anucha Chaiyasen) in San Francisco. Either way, the odds of a knockout in this clash are high. Shepard won more than half of his amateur fights via knockout; and all three of Kim’s three wins have come by knockout or TKO (as was Kim’s lone loss). The technical southpaw packs plenty of power in his left high kick, right hand and right elbow. “

I’ve never really looked for a knockout, knockouts just come,” Kim explained. “My style is always changing; I adapt based on my opponent. But basically I like to throw a lot of hands and I generally like to push the pace and come forward. I don’t usually back up or move around too much. That’s pretty much my fighting style.”

And your impressions of Josh Shepard? “I don’t know a lot about Josh,” Kim said. “I didn’t get to watch his last fight even though I tried to look for it … but I heard he’s pretty fast and explosive and has a kickboxing style. So I’ll be watching for that. He seems like a nice and humble guy; most of my opponent’s are and I end up liking them a lot. Muay Thai has a lot of down-to-earth people. So Josh seems like a cool dude but on Feb. 7th we’ll compete and see who wins.”

Ask Daniel Kim about his greatest accomplishment and he breathes not a word about his athletic career.

“One of my proudest accomplishments is to be able to work with Mighty Oaks Foundation, a program that provides faith-based healing for war veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” Kim said. “My brother, Steven, served in Iraq but I’m a civilian, so for them them to invite me is an honor and humbling. They have camps in Colorado and also here in California. I’m proud to be involved with them.”

The more Kim speaks, the more the words he injects the words “humbled” and “honored.” And from his perspective, after having every physical gift snatched away in an instant and then reclaiming that gift, Kim’s gratitude serves as a powerful reminder to us all about the power of faith and the human spirit.

“I’m not supposed to be doing this,” he said. “But right around the time when I was recovering from my injury I became close to God. Training brings me closer to God, too. I know the Bible doesn’t tell me to be fatalistic, but the truth is that some things are out of our hands. Some things are a matter of luck. Fighting has taught me not to put too much pressure on myself and not to worry too much about the future. Things will work out in the end.”

For Tickets and more information visit,

Recent Posts