She’s only 28, but Singaporean Tiffany Teo is already a ONE Championship strawweight fighter, an impressive one too, may we add, for scoring an impressive win over her Brazilian opponent at ONE Championship’s Heart of the Lion event in November.
“It’s been a long time since I entered a championship; my last set was earlier in January in Jakarta. Coming back into the fight, I felt like there’s a lot for me to improve, and I was also going against a world champion, Michelle Nicolini, one of the most decorated fighters in the world. It was a big step up for me and I have a lot of things to prove since,” Tiffany tells us over the phone.
A choir girl in her formative years, she attended a lot of activities with ActiveSG Outdoor Adventure Club, a national movement for sports and physical activity. The club counts hiking, orienteering, and kayaking as some of their draws. After graduating from junior college, Tiffany decided to pick up muay thai, a combat sport that mixes punches, kicks, knees, elbows as part of its 8-point striking system, compared to kickboxing, that only has 4-point striking system.
“It was really nice to be back in Singapore to fight in my home ground, and having that support of my family and friends.”
After months of training in muay thai, treating it as an exercise routine to keep fit, her then coach asked if she wanted to give the sport a try. “I didn’t, because I was working part-time and had school, and wasn’t committed to the training yet. I brushed it aside and graduated from university and decided to give it a try and enrolled in my first amateur muay thai fight. Back then, it was more of ticking off a bucket list; I wanted to experience how’s it like to fight so I guess I could say fortunately, I won my first fight and that got me to persevere and I got invited to join a national boxing tournament,” she added.
Her first fight became her main draw to persevere; Tiffany continued to box for another two years but decided to pick up wrestling and jiujitsu and give mixed martial arts (MMA) a shot.
As her training days go by, her interest multiplied: “I really like MMA a lot, there’s a lot of possibilities, like anything can happen at a MMA fight. If it’s boxing, there’s a lot to throw punches but at MMA, you can kick, throw punches, go underground and throw more punches, so I feel like there’s that fun part of MMA.”
But to some, from the outside, the sport can be seen as intimidating and mainly male-dominated. Even Tiffany isn’t excluded from that first impression when she stepped into the gym.
“I guess it’s kind of intimidating for most girls, I guess. Honestly, when I remember my first muay thai class, when I entered the gym I was intimidated (laughs) and it was full of guys and I was the only girl in class and it was a nerve-wrecking environment. I was also new to the sports too, and I didn’t know what to expect. So I would go for a few classes at least, and after that I got used to it. People are very nice at the gym although they may look a bit intimidating. But I felt like, if it’s something you really want to do, then you should just go for it. As an Under Armour ambassador, I find some of the values they preach to be a go-getter and just chase your dreams,” she shared some encouraging words.
Now that her fights are over for this year, there’s no resting on her laurels; Tiffany is entering the 17th edition of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM), to be held from Dec 8 – 9. It’s her first time entering a run, and she didn’t display any signs of nervousness when we asked her about her training preparation.
“It’s my first time joining a 10K marathon; I do run as part of my training two to three times a week. I’ve always wanted to give it a try, so it’s great that I have this opportunity. For me, my average run is five to ten kilometres and I do a lot of yoga. A lot of people tend to neglect the recovery process after the run and that’s how people get injured. Yoga helps me to prevent injuries, but not just for running, martial arts included,” she stressed.
Her end goal: To clock in 25 minutes or below.
As for her food diet, she is also mindful of what her body needs. Cheat days? Not quite. “It depends if I’m preparing for a fight; if I have to compete in the weight category, I have to be really strict about my diet to ensure that I can make the weight. My diet is relatively more carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, brown rice, proteins, which are normally chicken breast and sometimes salmon. Once in a while I have steak and vegetables like broccoli. When I’m off fights, and I don’t really care, I’ll just eat whatever I want,” she laughed.
During my fight prep, I do have cheat days, but it’s more like a healthy cheat day, like having steaks.
Having been in the industry, are we hopeful there will be more female representation in the MMA sport? Tiffany is hopeful.
“Ideally it would be great if we have more female trainers, because having that would attract more females to take up the sport. Like I said, if it’s your first time, being in a male-dominated environment is pretty intimidating. In the field of MMA, most of them are still pretty new to it, so I think there’s not a lot of female instructors with the skill sets to teach mixed martial arts. I know a lot of female instructors teaching boxing and muay thai which are more popular here, for some reason. But I do see more females taking up MMA as a hobby now, and even competing competitively. Maybe within the next five or ten years we will see a rise of female instructors in MMA,” she added.