By the start of the second round, Tiffany Teo’s right eye started to swell. Her opponent had landed a few hooks squarely on her brow. As the fight wore on, the swelling worsened, and Teo (BA ’13) was soon unable to see. She fell backward, splaying her legs in an attempt to draw her opponent to the canvas where she could leverage her wrestling skills and work off feel instead of sight.
But it was the referee who jumped to cover her; the fight was over. Teo was taken out of the cage and to the hospital. The loss in January’s ONE World Championship in Jakarta, Indonesia, was the first for the 28-year-old MMA fighter since she had gone pro two years earlier.
Teo didn’t grow up fantasizing about becoming a fighter. A year before beginning her undergraduate studies at UB, she took up Muay Thai kickboxing, a stand-up, striking martial art popular in her home country of Singapore, as a way to get into shape. She was a natural; according to her coach, she was ready to fight just two months into her training.
Teo decided against it, but the idea lingered. While at UB, she joined a Muay Thai club—again, she told herself, to keep in shape. But after completing her BA in psychology and before starting her graduate studies, she took a trip to Spain, and while hiking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago trail, she had an epiphany: She wanted to fight.
Teo came home to Singapore and resumed her training. The choice shocked her parents. “They didn’t support it,” Teo says. “I had to show them that this was something I could excel at.”
Six months later, Teo stepped into the ring for the first time. That fight ended in a loss. But it didn’t dampen her spirit. “I think losing is a blessing in disguise,” she says. “Before it had been more like a tick off the bucket list. But losing that fight made me want to train harder.”
Teo figured that her hands were holding her back, so she took up boxing. As with Muay Thai, she was a natural; she was soon recruited to join the Singapore national boxing team and won a national championship. From there she started wrestling, and then studied Brazilian jiujitsu. Before long, Teo had the skills necessary to launch her MMA career; she made her pro debut in February 2016.
Teo fights in the strawweight division, but she prefers training with the larger and stronger male athletes in the gym. Even they struggle to keep up with her grueling regimen. Her twice-a-day, six-days-a-week grind inspired her nickname, “No Chill”—as much an admonition to the other athletes as it is a moniker for Teo: “No Chill is here.”
Her dedication has paid off. Just two years after making her professional debut, she racked up a string of seven wins and earned a bid to the ONE Championship, Asia’s largest fight promotion—as well as the support of her family.
“They figured that I’m serious about fighting,” she says. “They’re really supportive now.”
Following the loss in Jakarta, Teo underwent several surgeries to address the damage to her face. It took months for the swelling to go down completely. But none of it would keep her out of the gym for long. She plans to make another run at the championship as soon as she can.
“I just can’t help dreaming the same dream,” says Teo. “I wake up every day and know that this is what I want to do. I’m really excited to get back in the cage.”