Career pathways and life opportunities were in short supply for a young Samy Sana.
Raised on the notoriously rough streets out of the outer suburbs of Paris, the young French-Algerian athlete seemed destined - and almost resigned - to a purposeless existence of petty crime and general skullduggery.
"I gave up school very early so I had to find something else to make things right," Sana recalled.
All of that changed when a friend introduced him to a boxing gym at the age of 14, giving him his first experience of the wonderful world of combat sports. Not long after that introduction, Sana found himself following his same friend to a nearby Muay Thai gym.
"At that age, I didn't know a lot about martial arts but I trained for the first time and fell in love with it immediately," said Sana.
But there was one moment that galvanized Sana's commitment to the ancient art - his first Muay Thai in-ring experience. It was a near-perfect debut.
"I was 14 years old and I went into the ring without any apprehension, feeling relaxed and the fight was over in the first round. After that bout I knew I was made for fighting," Sana remembers with a smile.
"I knew I was a fighter and I would make my living off my newfound passion. I knew that my life would be dedicated to fighting and combat sports.”
While his commitment and passion for Muay Thai was unquestionable, Sana found his options limited when searching for spots on fight cards to start legitimately plying his trade. So, he turned his attentions to kickboxing instead.
Despite an early adjustment period, Sana soon felt at ease with his new art.
"I had to adapt my techniques for kickboxing, but it wasn't too different from my fighting style in Muay Thai because I have very powerful punches," said Sana.
"I love to punch and I could knee as well so it wasn't too different."
Sana had instant success with kickboxing, winning a slew of regional and then national and world titles before he caught the attention of ONE Championship, capturing the featherweight division's attention with a win over Thai great Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex.
"AK47" will look to add to that tally when he takes on Dagestan's Dzhabar Askerov at ONE: Dreams of Gold in Bangkok on August 16 with a spot in the final of the ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Grand Prix and a US $1 million prize on the line.