If a teenaged Tiffany Teo could see her adult counterpart, she would be unrecognizable.
As a young girl, the Singaporean was heavily involved in choir activities, which she participated in for a decade.
“I was a nerd when I was a kid,” she confesses. “I was not very active.”
Today, the 27-year-old is the polar opposite. With a perfect 5-0 record, the strawweight traded in her songbooks and rehearsal rooms for a pair of eight-ounce gloves and the gym. She went from a quiet, unassuming girl to becoming “The Soul Crusher”.
Teo looks to continue her unconventional rise up the ranks on Friday Night, 26 May, to a roaring hometown crowd inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES.
The winding road to ONE Championship began in the oddest of places — in front of the television screen. Teo’s interest in martial arts, Muay Thay specifically, was stoked by popular reality show The Contender Asia.
Motivated by that television program, and a brief stint in taekwondo, Teo made her way to a Singapore gym to start training in the “art of eight limbs” nearly eight years ago. What started out as a way to stay in shape quickly turned into requests for Teo to test out her skills against real competition.
“I had no plans to compete,” she says. “My coaches kept asking. They wanted me to go to Thailand. I thought it was a crazy idea. ‘You want me to go face a girl that has been doing it all her life?’”
Teo turned down the opportunity test herself in Thailand. In fact, after training for two years, she put Muay Thai on the shelf completely. She packed her bags and headed to the United States to study Psychology at the University of Buffalo, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.
However, school was far from enough to keep Teo from wondering “what if” in terms of martial arts competition. As each day passed, the fire to compete grew stronger. With a full life prior to heading to the United States, there was simply no time for her to train, but after concluding her studies, the window opened again.
“The Soul Crusher” returned to Singapore and dove head-first into the amateur martial arts scene after just a month of training. What was meant to be a one-time experience she could cross off her bucket list, soon turned into something more serious, all because she lost.
“I hate losing,” the determined warrior says. “I decided to re-evaluate what I did wrong, and I wanted to continue.”
Since then, her journey progressed quickly. First there was Muay Thai. Then boxing. Eventually, she dabbled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and then before she knew it, the Singaporean was on the road to a full-fledged professional mixed martial arts career. That is a far cry from her days in the choir.
From the amateur to the professional ranks, however, there is one battle she continues to fight to this day: winning the approval of her parents.
“They do not like the fact that I am competing,” she says. “Since day one, they asked me why I wanted to do it. ‘You cannot be a normal person with a nine-to-five job?’ They have let it go, but I know they do not like it. They want me to settle down and lead a normal life.”
Teo’s elders have shown some signs of coming around, though. In fact, her mom and dad were on hand for Teo’s promotional debut at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR last November in Singapore, where she submitted Walaa Abbas via rear-naked choke in the second round.
Still, it was difficult for her parents to witness.
“They told my friends it was too painful to watch,” she continues. “They are not into combat sports. If you are into martial arts, you know the technical aspects. If you are not, you just see two girls trying to kill each other.”
Teo remains hopeful that her parents will be among the capacity crowd for her next fight against Rebecca Heintzman-Rozewski at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, as she looks to improve her record to 6-0. If they are, they will get a chance to see a version of “The Soul Crusher” they, and martial arts fans around the world, have not seen before.
“I made some changes to my training,” she says. “You will see a different Tiffany Teo this time.”