There are not a lot of professional athletes who weren’t even into sports until their late teens. Most pro athletes have been lifelong athletes, participating in some kind of sports since they were young kids. That is not the case for Singapore’s Tiffany Teo.
Teo was born in Brunei, but grew up in her father’s homeland in Singapore. The 32-year-old martial artist is the youngest of three siblings, as she has an older brother and older sister, neither of which are really into sports. Their younger sister took a different route.
“Education is a big thing here,” Teo told Combat Press. “I went all the way to my [university], and, after I graduated, I thought I was going to go for my Master’s and PhD in psychology. After I graduated with my Bachelor’s, I was working at a research institute in Singapore, and that’s also when I started doing Muay Thai and started to have an interest in fighting. I came to a crossroad where I had to choose between fighting or pursuing my Master’s. I figured that I can always study anytime I want, but fighting is a very time-limited sport. I was in my prime, and that was the best time for me to go for it, so I chose fighting.”
As she mentioned, the Singaporean athlete did not plan on becoming a pro fighter. In fact, her entry into martial arts wasn’t even about fighting at all.
“When I was in my junior college, I just wanted to learn something new and lose some weight at the same time,” Teo said. “So, that’s how I started with Muay Thai. One thing just kind of led to another, and I was doing Muay Thai, and my coach was like, ‘Do you want to train for a professional Muay Thai fight?’ So, that kind of planted a seed in my mind. You know, this is something that I could possibly do one day.
“I went on to my university, and I came back and decided to just give it a try. But, back then, it was more like a tick off my bucket list, you know? I just wanted to try it and just say that I’ve tried fighting. Fortunately, I lost my first fight, and it kind of made me hungrier for the next fight. I just kept training, and, after that, I did boxing and a bit of wrestling and jiu-jitsu. One thing kind of led to another, so I started fighting. I wasn’t a fight fan or anything. I was very new to fight sports, and I just kind of figured things out along my way. Five, ten years later, I still find myself fighting and I enjoy it a lot.”
Teo received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Buffalo in New York. Not only was the overall culture different, but the well-known harsh winters of Buffalo were a bit of a surprise for the native of Southeast Asia.
“The weather was super cold,” admitted Teo. “Like, when I was there, the winter was crazy. School was closed for a couple weeks, because of the winter storms., Everyone was really nice and friendly there. In Singapore, the culture is a bit different. People are not as friendly, like, talking to each other a bit more reserved. I would say it was a bit of a culture shock for me at first, but I liked it a lot. In fact, recently I just went to San Diego for a couple of weeks – like five or six weeks – just to have a short vacation and train a little bit at different gyms. I really like it a lot in the U.S.”
Teo trains under her longtime coach and head coach of Matrix MMA – formerly, Team Highlight Reel – Major Overall. Overall was also a pro fighter who had four of his eight pro fights in ONE Championship. American-born, he is now a resident of Singapore and coaches a stacked team of fighters. Among them is Teo’s boyfriend, Sim Kai Xiong, who is also a kickboxing and MMA coach at the gym.
Teo had her first amateur fight several years ago. While the outcome did not go her way, it was the launching point into a successful career. Since then, she had a brief striking career, and shifted into MMA when she made her pro MMA debut in Feb. 2016. She now sits at 10-2 with all but her first three fights happening in ONE. Her only two losses are to the reigning strawweight champ Xiong Jing Nan.
“I only had one amateur Muay Thai fight, and, after that, I just went on to boxing,” Teo said. “I was in amateur boxing for about two or three years. I think [my record] was like five and two. I didn’t really keep track. I think I had like seven or eight fights and like two losses out of those.
“I have been satisfied so far, and, recently, I decided to drop down to atomweight, because I feel like there are not a lot of fighters in my weight class at strawweight, which is the main reason why I decided to go down. I’m hoping to be more active fighting.”
Teo’s last fight was in Jan. 2022, when she faced Meng Bo. Teo picked up the victory, after her second loss to Xiong, and this one was a second-round submission. This was her seventh win under the ONE banner.
“I was quite surprised that she was coming up to strawweight, because she has been fighting at atomweight since she made her debut in ONE,” said Teo. “I knew that she was she was a dangerous striker, and I watched all her fights. I knew that she, for sure, had knockout power, so my team just came up with a game plan to neutralize that. So, the whole game plan was looking to take lesser damage and to bring it to the ground because that’s where her weakness is. So, I just stuck with the game plan and got the finish. It was kind of how my coach planned it out. I’m glad I got the finish.”
Teo’s next fight will be Thursday, Sep. 29, at ONE 161, where she will face India’s Ritu Phogat on the main card. Phogat currently sits at 7-2 as a pro, with all of her fights taking place in ONE. Her only two losses are by split decision to Bi Nguyen in May 2021 and by second-round armbar to Stamp Fairtex in Dec. 2021 for the atomweight grand prix championship. Phogat has a background in wrestling and poses a formidable threat to Teo as she looks to get back in the win column.
“I know she trains at Evolve, and she’s a stylist – mostly like very wrestling-heavy,” said Teo. “She comes from a family of a good wrestlers.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a striker-versus-grappler style, because I feel like I see myself as a good grappler too. So, even if it goes to the ground, I feel like I can control on the ground if I get the dominant position. And, I have my offenses off my back too. So, I’m going into the fight just seeing where the openings are. If I can keep the distance, I’ll do that. If she manages to close the distance and try to get a takedown, I’ll be offensive on the ground too.”
In addition to training at their home gym in Singapore, Teo and her boyfriend made a trip out to the San Diego area for several weeks this summer to get some cross-training in.
“I trained at 10th Planet-San Diego, because they have quite a lot of female pro fighters,” Teo explained. “Like, Ilima[-Lei Macfarlane] – she fights in Bellator – she was there, so I managed to link up with her, and she told me to go for the training there. I trained at Gamebred [Training Center]. [Herman Terrado] is a close friend of my coach in Singapore, Major Overall. He has fought in Bellator and he also fought in PFL. I also went to Victory-Alliance – the Alliance team trains at Victory – and I managed to train with Phil Davis – a little bit of wrestling with him. So, I was kind of just hopping around to different gyms to get exposed to different styles.”
Obviously, like most fighters, Teo is not looking past Phogat. This will be one of her toughest opponents to date. However, she has big plans for her future in the sport.
“I have short-term and long-term goals,” said Teo. “The short-term goal is just to rack up my wins to prove my work ethic and get a shot at the atomweight title. And, if things open up in the strawweight, I’m open to going back to strawweight and become the champ in both weight classes – champ-champ status. No one has had that in the MMA division for the females, so that’s a long-term goal that I have. In the meantime, I’m just keeping my sights on the short-term goals, so I’m not going to overlook any opponent.”
The current ONE atomweight champ is Angela Lee. She won that title from the aforementioned Xiong in Oct. 2019, but Xiong had previously beaten Lee for the ONE strawweight title only seven months prior. At ONE on Prime Video 2, which takes place this Friday night, Lee will be heading back up to the strawweight division for her trilogy fight with Xiong and a second attempt at the strawweight title. Teo still wants another crack at Xiong, but Friday night will determine whether or not that is a title fight. Either way, she really wants to get a much-needed win over the only fighter to ever beat her – and, twice at that.
“Let’s be honest, the first time around, I got totally rocked,” Teo admitted. “I wasn’t ready for that fight at all. The first time I fought her, I was just pure survival mode. I’m glad I took that fight, even though I lost. I feel like that fight made a huge impact in my fight career. I came to a point where I realized that there were so many holes in my game, and that there’s a lot of things I had to address.
“I went back to the drawing board, worked on my wrestling, worked on my grappling and just all the holes that I needed to just tune-up on. After that I got to fight Michelle [Nicolini] and then Ayaka [Miura], and then I got to fight Xiong again. In my opinion, I felt like the last fight was really close. I’m hoping for a third fight, but I don’t know how it’s going to go, because we all know that Xiong is going to fight Angela just a couple of days after [I fight], so we’ll see how that goes.”
Regardless of what happens in the trilogy fight between Lee and Xiong, but she will need to win her fight first. After that, she will closely be watching what happens on Friday, as that will likely determine her next opponent. But, Teo knows she has her own task at hand, and Phogat is her main focus.
“I foresee a finish later in the rounds,” said Teo. “Everyone loves the finish, so I’m going to go for it and hopefully get the [50-thousand-dollar] bonus.”
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.