Cover Photo: One Championship

Here’s how the top-ranked women’s strawweight contender battled a rare skin condition and Covid-19 interruptions to win against Meng Bo at the One Championship: Heavy Hitters competition on January 14

In October 2020, Tiffany Teo, one of the world’s best female mixed martial artist (MMA) fighters, suffered a devastating loss to China’s Xiong Jing Nan. Shortly after, the fighter was then diagnosed with an incredibly rare skin condition which pulled her into one of the darkest periods of her life.

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But on January 14, Teo dominated and emerged as the champion against China’s Meng Bo during 'One: Heavy Hitters', an event organised by sports organisation One Championship and was held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

“It was a very close fight with Xiong Jing Nan but I didn’t even have time to be disappointed about the loss because shortly after, I was diagnosed with Anhidrosis, a really rare skin condition that prevents me from being able to sweat,” Teo told Tatler over a Zoom interview. The fighter had carved out just a short time to chat in between training sessions for last night's event.

Teo, who is also known as “No Chill” in the cage, took Meng down in the second round with a rear naked choke in what was her first fight in over a year. However, the journey to this victory was far from an easy one.

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“Before I got officially diagnosed, I was overheating and dehydrated all the time but no one could figure out what was wrong. I was even hospitalised at one point because my pee had turned brown,” Teo said.

She continued by saying that one day, she stumbled across an article that described the exact symptoms she had and eventually led to her diagnosis in January 2021. 

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“I got an appointment at the National Skin Centre and finally found a doctor who was able to help me. [My condition] was so rare that it was [tough] to find treatment,” she said. 

During this time, Teo’s training took a backseat and she found herself having to take more breaks and be very careful.

“I used to pour water over myself in the middle of training sessions to keep my body from overheating and my soaked shirt would dry so quickly because my body temperature was just so high,” Tiffany said with a laugh. 

It took Teo about eight months to recover completely and it was during this time that she really began to question her decision to fight professionally. 

“I had just lost such a big fight, I was sick and I was also having to deal with Covid-19 and the disruptions it was causing to my training. It was a very overwhelming and dark period in my life,” said Teo. She continued that during the circuit breaker period when gyms were closed, she would film herself training and send the videos to her trainer for feedback. 

However, with a good support system and iron-clad determination, Teo pulled herself out of this dark hole and came back stronger and with even more of a taste for blood. 

“After that whole ordeal and having to consider never stepping into the cage again, it just made me realise how much I really wanted to be a fighter and how much I love the sport. So now I treasure every moment. I go into every fight knowing that I need to give it my all and I do,” Teo shared. 

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However, sheer drive, consistency, strength and talent were not the only things Teo had to achieve in her journey to becoming a champion. As one of the few female MMA fighters in Singapore and the world, Teo has had a significantly higher number of obstacles she has had to navigate. 

“There are so few female MMA fighters, particularly in Singapore, and so I don’t have very many people to take inspiration from or to learn from. I have to do everything by trial and error myself.” Teo said. 

The fighter continued by saying that most of her training partners are men who are 10 to 20 kilograms heavier than her and who have to control themselves and focus on technique when training with her rather than only size and strength. 

“Biologically, we are different and so what works for a guy in terms of training or lifestyle may not work for me as a woman. So I need to largely figure it out myself,” Tiffany shared. 

She added that even her family was initially quite sceptical of her choice in career because it was not conventional and she was a woman stepping into a male-dominated sport. 

“I mean, growing up, I was totally not athletic. I used to skip PE classes and I sang in the choir,” Teo said with a laugh. 

It took a friend who invited her to her cousin’s taekwondo class when she was 17 for her to decide that she liked martial arts. 

“I didn’t like taekwondo, honestly, but I discovered Muay Thai in university and then MMA fighting when my coach invited me to fight more professionally,” she said.

Teo made her professional MMA debut in early 2016 and though she lost her very first fight, she worked her way up to earn a place on the One Championship roster after clocking three straight first-round stoppage wins. 

Today, Teo is a well-known face in the cages and pictures of her (often terrifying) face in the middle of fights mean that most people would be silly to try to underestimate her. 

This is why most people would be surprised to learn that this lean and mean fighter with a thirst for violence in the cage is also... a yoga teacher?

“I picked up yoga after I lost that big fight in October 2020. I was dealing with really bad injuries from the fight. I had a torn retina and I needed to have surgery on my ears which later got infected,” Teo shared. “I decided to pick up yoga because I was just dealing with a lot in my recovery process and I wanted to relax.”

Teo picked up a couple of classes of yoga and after a few months, decided to sign up to be a yoga teacher herself. 

“It was a bit random. I know the owner of the yoga studio I was going to and she suggested that I just try to teach and so I signed up for the 200-hour yoga teacher class and now I teach about three to four freelance classes a week,” Teo said with a smile. 

She added that her strength and conditioning coach is also a yoga teacher and that he recommended that she regularly do yoga to improve her performance when she was fighting and so it all worked out. 

Today, Teo is celebrating her most recent win and preparing for what her future competitions will look like. 

“There are not many women competing in the strawweight level so this year, I am looking to fight in other weight classes like atomweight where there are more female competitors that I can fight against,” Teo said. 

She added that she will also be putting her focus into furthering her education. The fighter is currently pursuing her Masters in Counselling Psychology in addition to training for her sport and hopes to be able to use her education in psychology in the near future so that she remains a person who is more than just a fighter. 

“At the end of the day, I know I haven’t yet achieved my fullest potential and the idea of not being able to fight scares me. So I give every single fight my all and I make sure that I can diversify as well so that there are things outside the sport that I am good at too,” Teo concluded.

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