“What do I like about fighting? I would say the adrenaline. Fighting in a cage or in the ring gives you an adrenaline rush that you can’t get from doing anything else. It’s a feeling that you have to experience for yourself.
I’ve been a professional MMA fighter with ONE Championship for over two years now. But when I first picked up combat sports, I was just looking to try something new and keep fit at the same time.
I started with taekwondo after junior college, which was quite late if you think about it. Most of my training partners were kids! Shortly after, Muay Thai caught my interest thanks to (TV show) Contender Asia. I found a gym in Singapore called Baan Nak Muay and started training.
It sounds crazy, but a coach from Thailand asked if I wanted to fight professionally a month later. I declined obviously. I had zero fight experience, and I also had school and part-time work commitments, but it did plant a seed in my head.
I decided to give competitive amateur Muay Thai a try after I finished my final year of uni in Buffalo. I wasn’t even planning to fight professionally. I just wanted to check an item off my bucket list and move on from there.
I lost my first fight, unfortunately, but in retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise. It made me analyse the holes in my game and motivated me to train even harder. My coaches said I could have won if I had thrown more punches, so that’s why I started boxing.
I trained for a year and had my first boxing match against Efasha ‘The Face’. She’s a pro boxer now. Have you seen her fight? She’s a beast! After I won my debut against her, I was invited to represent Singapore and join the national boxing team just before the 2015 SEA Games.
But it was hard for me to find opponents because I was walking around at a heavier weight. There was no guarantee that my weight class would even be available at the SEA Games. Asian girls are just generally smaller I guess.
It reached a point where I had to decide if I wanted to continue pursuing boxing or try something else. Coincidentally, my coach had his own fight promotion and was looking for female MMA fighters.
I was already dabbling with Jiu Jitsu and wrestling at the time, so I gave it a try. I accepted my first MMA fight on two weeks’ notice and realised that I really liked it. After I went on to win two more fights for smaller promotions, ONE approached me and the rest is pretty much history.
Of course there were a lot of questions in my head before I signed with ONE Championship. It was a good opportunity, but I kept thinking about the pros and cons of fighting professionally. I talked to my friends and coaches, and they gave mixed advices.
I knew there was no fixed road to follow if you wanted to be a fighter. But I guess I couldn’t help dreaming the dream, so I took a leap of faith and decided to just roll with it and see where this road would take me. So far so good!
My hardest fight? It would be against the current strawweight world champion Xiong Jing Nan. It was quite a war. I gave it everything I had, but I lost. Not to make excuses, but I wasn’t mentally ready for the fight. I accepted it last minute and only had six weeks to prepare for it.
I honestly contemplated quitting after that fight. I wasn’t sure if the fight life was really meant for me. I had a lot of questions and self-doubt. I had to get surgeries done on my ear because it blew up. There were also holes in my retina, so I had to go under the laser to fix my eye.
But the interesting thing was, my parents weren’t really supportive of my fighting career before the fight. They just thought it was a phase and that I would eventually find a regular job. But after the fight, they saw how much I really wanted it and became really supportive.
My dad was super intense and told me that I should go overseas to train and that he would sponsor everything. I was like ‘Alright dad. Calm down. Let me recover first!’
During my time-off from training, I did a lot of yoga and focused on myself. In the end, I felt like fighting was something that I still wanted to do.
I went back to the gym and worked on the holes in my game. I was hungry to get back in the cage and show my fans that I was a different fighter, and I managed to do just that. I won my comeback fight against Michelle Nicolini, an eight-time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion.
I had taken a long break since my loss, so it was really nice being back in the cage and fighting on home ground in Singapore. The whole stadium was shouting like mad. I was quite emotional and overwhelmed by the support from my fans, family and friends.
Right now, my goal is to work my way up to title contention. I would love to get the opportunity to fight the champion once again, whoever she may be when I eventually reach the top. It would be great to be the first real Singaporean MMA world champion.” – Tiffany Teo, 30
Interview by: Arman Shah