Entrepreneur. Gym Owner. Champion.

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Meet Theo Rlayang, a 28-year-old professional MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter, gym owner and aspiring entrepreneur.

Rlayang was 8 years old when his father woke him up in the middle of the night to flee their small village. It took them more than a week to travel on foot through the perilous jungle to a refugee camp in Cambodia. They were shot at, there were dangerous animals, and some who traveled with them died along the way. 

Montagnard Identity

Most people Rlayang encounters know very little about Montagnards. He wants to serve as a role model for younger Montagnards. He sees MMA as a way to increase their visibility and to show youth that they should pursue their dreams. 

Montagnards (a French term for “mountain people”) are indigenous people of the Central Highlands in Vietnam and are known for assisting American soldiers during the Vietnam War. There are about 32 Montagnard tribes. Rlayang is a member of the Bunong tribe.

There are approximately 5,000 Montagnards in North Carolina, according to UNCG’s Center for New North Carolinians. Read more about Montagnards and how they came to Greensboro here.


MMA Journey

Rlayang’s early years in Greensboro were challenging, as he and his family tried to adapt to their new home. He was often bullied for being smaller than his peers. But he was drawn sports, first soccer, then wrestling. His high school wrestling coach saw his potential and encouraged and inspired him. Rlayang eventually discovered mixed martial arts and found his passion. By day, he worked as a nail technician at a salon, and by night, he fought and trained. 



Family Reaction

Rlayang’s parents worry about his safety when he’s fighting, but they’re proud of his accomplishments



Gym Tour

Welcome, to Jungle Athletics Rlayang’s MMA gym in Asheboro, which opened at the end of March, 2023.  Follow on Instagram @jungleathelticsgym

  The Photo Album

This photo album is a paginated portfolio of images related to this interview. The download contains a zip file with all of the images.

  The Podcast Audio

This podcast recording is the full-length interview minus the video.


Story Collaborators
Nancy Sidelinger Herring

Nancy Sidelinger Herring


Nancy Sidelinger Herring is a professional photographer with 25 years of experience in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina. She spent 19 years working as the Special Sections photographer with the Greensboro News & Record.

She is passionate about helping homeless pets, whether it's taking their photos to help them find homes, volunteering at shelters, or teaching pet responsibility classes.

Nancy loves spending time with her husband, Jamie, their three dogs, her family and friends, and playing with her grandson, Kenai.

Tina Firesheets

Tina Firesheets

Co-Producer PAVE NC


Tina started her career in journalism with her high school newspaper, then served as editor for the campus newspapers of both colleges she attended.

She was a journalist at the Greensboro News & Record for nearly 15 years, covering education, local government, community news, and business.

She was also the founding editor of 1808: Greensboro’s Magazine. Receiving awards in the Best Niche publications categories.

Currently, she is an associate creative director at Pace Communications. A lover of writing and creativity, she’s happy to be a founding Co-Producer for PAVE NC!

Dave, Maunaleo Ventures

Dave, Maunaleo Ventures

Media Production

Dave is a builder, fixer, and protector of digital things. He has worked for small businesses and Fortune 200 companies across multiple industries, including financial services, manufacturing, and defense.

Dave was born in the District of Columbia but considers the Districts of North Kohala and Hamakua his spirit home [once from the District, always from a District]. Dave does not do social media or answer the phone very often, so if you want to reach him, you will probably need to go analog. Brah,  dasswhyhard!

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