There are not many athletes who have had an ascent like Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige this year.
The Thai martial arts star has seen her popularity skyrocket since making her professional debut in March, and by next weekend, she will have four bouts as a professional in what has been a whirlwind 2017.
Most up-and-comers don’t immediately get a chance to shine under the bright lights of martial arts’ biggest show. But the 28-year-old Bangkok native jumped straight into the deep end, and spent her maiden year in ONE Championship competing in front of thousands of fans in sold-out arenas throughout Asia.
The way she has risen to that challenge has been part of why her popularity has soared, but her charisma and charm is undeniable. All things considered, 2017 is a year Ishige will never forget.
“It has been the best year ever,” she says, summing it up in typical bashful fashion. “I found my way, and I got a big chance to be a part of one of the biggest promotions in the world with ONE Championship. I won, I lost, and I learned new things. I met and conversed with new friends. I have over 100,000 fans on my Facebook page. I can’t explain it all!”
There have been triumphant highs and a lone setback, but they have all been a wealth of learning opportunities.
For Ishige, success has been sweet indeed, with the added satisfaction of doing it in front of her hometown crowd, and the fans that had supported her. She cites her professional debut and first victory over Audreylaura Boniface at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM this past March in Bangkok as 2017’s high point.
“I started my pro career in my hometown, and made Thai people proud of me. That is my favorite moment,” she confesses.
“Tinydoll” followed that victory up with another stellar performance at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES in Singapore two months later, where she submitted Indonesia’s Nita Dea via rear-naked choke. But this past August in Macao, she experienced a harsh lesson at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS, when she fell to the Philippines’ Jomary Torres in the second round of their atomweight clash.
Sometimes, a defeat can be the greatest catalyst to learn a harsh lesson and inspire positive change. A true martial artist faces these difficult situations head on, addresses them, and uses them to make the necessary changes to improve in one’s craft. It is something Ishige appreciates.
“Most people thought my least favorite moment is when I lost,” the Thai explains. “They were only half-right, because I learned a lot of things after I lost. I knew my weakness, then I improved myself, and for sure I will bounce back in my next bout on 9 December in my hometown.
“My strength does not come from winning. It comes from obstacles and hardship. Everything that you go through prepares you for the next level. You learn more from losing than winning.”
Now, “Tinydoll” is ready to show the world everything she has learned. She will compete opposite 20-year-old Manila native and promotional debutante Rome “The Rebel” Trinidad at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD, which broadcasts live from Bangkok’s Impact Arena on Saturday, 9 December.
“I wish to make Thai people proud again, so please wait for your new year present from me,” says Ishige, who looks to put the icing on the cake for a year that has seemingly had it all.
As Ishige prepares to cross off the final date of her massive 2017, she admits the year as been “so much more than I expected.”
Being a part of the ONE juggernaut, and the level of exposure and passionate fans it brings, has been been life-changing for the Thai star. In fact, she measures her success not through her professional record, but instead through the support she has gained, and the impact she has made.
“I got some new experiences that I never had before in my life, new friends from around the world, and many fans coming to support me and cheering me on even if I won or lost,” she explains. “But the important thing is I got a chance to educate and inspire people who have had misunderstandings about martial arts.”