Now that you know the story of the rescue, how Yu gained the knowledge to help Evelyn Chang is almost as incredible.
When Yu was only a few days away from graduating from his Special Forces training, he was set to go on to the counter terrorism unit in Okinawa, which is "very prestigious," he told MMAmania.com. Instead, he made a decision during S.E.R.E. (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) training that would put him on probation and send him to the Southern Philippines, where he would gain the necessary knowledge and skills to save Chang many years later and change the course of his life.
While out in the North Carolina woods, weeks into training with two other soldiers, carrying only his I.D. and a knife, Yu came across some Guatemalans and by using his acquired skills, convinced them to take him into a nearby town called Aberdeen to Papa John's Pizza. He used his memorized credit card number and brought back a feast to the woods for himself and his fellow soldiers.
"I was getting a bit over confident the last three days," Yu admitted. "I knew I had the skills, knowledge, and ability to build a rapport with what turned out to be Guatemalan meth drug lab guys. When you look at them they look like normal dudes. It's not like they had tattoos all over their face or something like that. They just looked like normal hard-working illegal immigrants. In terms of eliciting a ride, that wasn't too hard. I spoke Spanish from having lived in Ecuador for a little while in high school. I missed a few things. Getting in the car and driving so far away I was like 'Whoa, we are really stretching the boundaries, breaking the rules here, and going an hour outside of the training area.'"
"I think the part of the story that is very funny is it ended up being pizza, which everybody associates with. Like a party or something. Going into the town at first I went to a gas station to get bread and slices of ham because I'm in survival mode. I was thinking about making some gruel or something. They wouldn't accept my memorized credit card number. I happened to know Papa John's does that because I used to order from them once a week. I would just call and they would take my credit card over the phone. Being that we were strip searched before going out on this survival exercise for 10 days, all I had was an ID card and a knife. So, I convinced the manager to take my credit card number based off my ID card. Then, why would you not bring back 10 pizzas? Your boys are back there suffering too, I'm not just going to order one pizza for myself and be a dick."
"On this pizza mission there were two other guys. I was the officer so I was in charge. To be fair, they both were like 'This is a horrible idea. Let's not do this.' I'm supposed to be the moral compass standard and I'm like 'Come on, don't be a pussy.' Coming back into the woods and bringing those ten pizzas, I've never seen grown men literally jump for joy. No exaggeration, we literally ate all the pizzas in probably five minutes. It doesn't seem humanly possible when you think about it, ten pizzas, everybody essentially eating an entire pizza to themselves in like five minutes. It was the best tasting thing I have ever tasted in my life. Imagine the greatest meal you've ever had and multiply that by a hundred times. It probably wasn't even good pizza, we just hadn't eaten anything in eight days. Then we thought we were clever and burned the pizza boxes and unfortunately the plastic two-liter bottles of soda and fell asleep by the fire."
Unfortunately for Yu and his pizza buddies, the receipt was discovered during the resistance phase of training, which is the final exercise of S.E.R.E. Training that includes being captured, tortured, and interrogated. The receipt was found in the chest pocket of his uniform during a strip search. At the time Yu said he was being hosed down and humiliated by female prison guards. An investigation took place because of the date of the receipt and the fact that Papa John's was over 30 miles away from the location of the base they were at. After reaching the conclusion that it was in fact, a valid receipt for almost $300 worth of pizza, Yu was pulled out of the concentration camp and confronted about it.
"One thing about my personality is that I will break every rule that you put in front of me, but if you are good enough to catch me I will admit to it immediately. I will never lie about it. I immediately confessed. I told them what happened. It's kind of funny. The officer, who was the commander of the S.E.R.E. school didn't think it was funny at all. The first sergeant was laughing. I could tell he wanted to give me a high five the whole time. As an officer, I was kicked out to never return. Literally with a day left of this two-year grueling green beret qualification course I was kicked out, never to return. The enlisted guys were allowed to go back and repeat S.E.R.E. Which was just three weeks and then continue on and graduate."
"Fortunately for me, I had a very powerful mentor who was the commander of all U.S. Army Special Forces units in Asia. Basically on the advice from a good friend, I wrote an email to him and said 'I'm sorry to disappoint you. This is what happened and I failed. Sorry I disappointed you.' Within five minutes he emails me back and says give me the phone number and don't move. He calls down to S.E.R.E. school and tells them he still wants to see me as a captain in the group. He calls me back and yells at me for the next 15 minutes. A couple months later I went back to S.E.R.E. school as the pizza guy, everybody knew the story at that point. That was not fun going through the second time. It was pretty rough for three weeks. It was a big chunk of humble pie. Not my first piece for sure and it's certainly not my last. I made it through the course."
Looking back on the now infamous incident, Yu admits he wishes he had burned the receipt. "The kicker to all of this," he says, is that he was earmarked as an "above the board" type of Special Forces captain. However, that changed due to the pizza infraction and it sent him on an entirely different path.
After seven months as Special Forces captain in the Philippines, Yu kept leading different missions in different spots on the globe or what he refers to as "theaters." Yu went on to four different tours in a little over three years, worked with Korean and Filipino Special Forces in Kurdistan, Bagdad, and the in the jungles of the Philippines and gained a wide range of experience in counter-terrorism and coordinating unique and clandestine missions.
"Across these four tours I had this really wide range of experience that led me to getting promoted early," Yu explained. "There are only seven Special Forces captains out of about 1,500 worldwide captains across the U.S. Military that get selected early for promotion. It's a really big deal. I really feel when you look back at it -- the pizza thing happening -- set me on a different career path and it actually got me promoted early. It's kind of interesting. I don't want to get too fabelist, but just how things work out in the end."
There was no way to know while he was using Special Forces skills to quell a craving for Papa John's Pizza, that decision would send him not only on a path of success, but lead to being able to save Chang's life. And now that story continues shed a positive light down upon him and open up more opportunities for him.
His apparel company, FLOW MMA, has already gained a significant amount of popularity and has sponsored ONE FC events. He has served as Chinese commentator for the promotion and has done media with them working alongside Rich Franklin at different seminars to translate and help promote the ONE FC 18: "War of Dragons" card in Taipei. Currently he and ONE FC are "working together to see how things go and are having discussions."
All of these things are tied into Chang's rescue and link back to the decision to go on the infamous Papa John's pizza run.
"The unintended consequences of that is everything that is happening now with the ONE FC and Hollywood is calling now trying to turn this into some type of feature film," Yu said. "It's crazy man, I never ever thought I would have to interact with the entertainment industry. I have a movie agent now that handles all that stuff, and sifting through all the proposals. Various reality TV shows want to do stuff out here in Asia. It's crazy shit. I never, ever thought. If anything I was nervous going in on whether or not I could actually help the family. I knew I had certain types of skills that I could try to put something together, but definitely no guarantees that I could get something done."
Everything happens for a reason as they say. Yu said he wished he had burned the receipt, but it appears it's a good thing he didn't.
*Note this is the second of a three-part series on Gene Yu. In the final installment, we will hear Yu's thoughts about MMA in Asia, and his apparel company FLOW MMA.