ONE Championship: Unbeaten Tiffany Teo enters the big leagues

Stefanus Ian (Text/Photos), Andre He (Video)

Birthdays are usually meant for partying and blowing out candles on birthday cakes, but Tiffany Teo will be hoping to rain blows on her opponent in the ring as she turns 27 this Friday (11 November).

That's when the professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter will be making her ONE Championship debut and looking for her fourth consecutive win in her fight against Egypt’s Walaa Abbas.

Being the only Singaporean female fighter in ONE Championship, it has been quite a journey for Teo who began her MMA journey about a decade ago surrounded by kids.

“I started when I was about 17 or 18, and I started with Taekwondo. It’s kind of funny as I was the only adult in the class,” Teo told Yahoo Singapore.

“My friend’s cousin was coaching Taekwondo, so I was like ‘Oh, I don’t mind giving it a try’... I did it for like a year-ish and got bored because my partners, they were all kids,” said Teo.

But the experience sowed the seeds of interest for Teo. She moved on to practicing Muay Thai for the next three years after "Contender Asia", the MMA reality television series, piqued her interest in the sport.

Education put a halt on her training as she went to the United States to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She stopped training for a year while overseas, but the call of the ring was too strong for Teo. Soon after her return to Singapore, she joined Juggernaut Fight Club.

“I grew to realise that I actually enjoy MMA… and it’s like you know the thing with sports, it’s very age-related and there’s only this period when you can keep fit, you can’t do it when you are 40 years old,” Teo said.

“So I feel like now is the time to pursue this – of course I still have plans to do my master's (degree) but I can do that when I am older.”

Turning professional

Through Juggernaut Fight Club, Teo dipped her toes into professional fighting, competing in a Muay Thai fight within her first month of training. She lost the match but it only added more fuel to her passion for MMA.

“As a coach, from what I saw from the (first) fight, she actually won the fight. It was a bogus decision, in any case, for her first fight she did well,” recounted Juggernaut’s head coach and president of Singapore Fighting Championship (SFC), Arvind Lalwani, 36, who coaches Teo.

Teo’s growth in the sport continued steadily over the years as she got into the national boxing team, winning multiple Jiu-Jitsu tournaments before finally turning pro in February this year. Since then, she has fought overseas in Full Metal Dojo 11 in Thailand and locally in SFC 2 and SFC 3.

Since turning pro, Teo has blitzed through all three of her fights, finishing all of them in under four minutes with two knock-outs and one submission. While coach Lalwani hopes that Tiffany continues with her quick finishes, he is more wary of the competition in the upcoming match against Abbas.

“We will try to take our time and see and if we have any openings and I am sure she will exploit it and she will finish the fight,” said Lalwani, who wants to position Teo within striking distance of the flyweight title by the end of next year.

Teo, who is also a part-time behavioural therapist working with autistic children, said she sees herself making a career out of MMA and fighting well into her “mid-30s”. And when she is done fighting in MMA, she also has plans to compete some more in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

For now, Teo is taking it one step at a time, working towards her goal of attaining the ONE Championship title.

“It will be awesome if I get a strike at a title but for now I just work with what I have, take it one step at a time,” she said.

“Keep on winning fights and I am sure the title will come along.”