Team Lakay’s Jenelyn Olsim could have chosen to focus on anything as a youngster, and it’s very likely that she would have been good at it.
As a high schooler, the Filipina spent her time exploring all kinds of different sports. From individual events like shot put to team games like volleyball and basketball, she excelled at them all.
That journey ultimately took the talented athlete to ONE Championship, where she’s become the #5-ranked women’s strawweight contender and will face Bi “Killer Bee” Nguyen in an atomweight mixed martial arts fight at ONE: BATTLEGROUND III on Friday, 27 August.
A victory at that event will also afford her the opportunity to challenge for an alternate spot in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix at ONE: EMPOWER next month.
But with so many sports to choose from, how did Olsim ultimately embark on a professional career in mixed martial arts? It seems to have begun almost by accident.
A Harsh Lesson
After leaving high school, the Filipina got her first taste of combat sports.
“It started from the wallpaper of my college classmate’s phone. She had this photo where she was in the middle of the ring, and I thought, ‘Woah, this is so cool,’” the 24-year-old recalls.
“She used to train in Team Lakay. Around that time I was only 17, and she knew that I didn’t have the finances to enroll. But she brought me somewhere and taught me the basics of striking and the ground game.”
Ever the adventurous teenager, Olsim developed the basics and began to focus on kickboxing.
She continued training and soon agreed to compete in her first fight. However, she quickly learned that the sport was not something one does for fun or out of boredom.
“After two weeks, I was already competing,” she says.
“It ended in a TKO – I lost. But of course, I didn’t know what I was signing up for at that time. I didn’t expect I would get so beat up. After that, I had trouble sleeping for the next month. I just kept thinking about that match.
“I didn’t have a coach. I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I was even smiling, and then I got myself beat up. I was really ashamed of that performance. I didn’t want to show my face to people.”
After so much all-around sporting success when she was younger, Olsim was unaccustomed to finding herself on the losing end.
But instead of shying away from the challenge, she became focused on regaining that earlier success. Moreover, she was determined and committed to a new passion.
“It really fired me up,” Olsim says. “I knew for myself that I could do it. It was just a matter of training and getting more knowledge in the sport. That’s why I looked for a gym and continued training.”
At that point, it was all about finding a place where she could refine her skills and gain more opportunities in the sport. And she found those in a humble gym in the mountains of Baguio City – although it wasn’t the famed Team Lakay.
“That situation really made me realize that I needed to go to a formal gym, and it landed me in Tribal Torogi,” the Filipina says.
It was in Tribal Torogi that Olsim truly started to spread her wings. She enjoyed the grind of training so much that she even talked her older brother — future ONE Warrior Series star Jerry “The Bokodian Warrior” Olsim — into coming to work with her.
“I actually came to Tribal first and then asked Jerry to come along,” she says. “We were both studying criminology in King’s College and then I kept convincing him to join me in the gym. When he tried it, he enjoyed it. You can call us late bloomers.”
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Finding Success And New Beginnings
Olsim flourished at her new gym home, and her natural sporting talent began to shine through once again.
In just three years, she improved so much that the Philippine National Muay Thai team recruited her. She repaid them with gold medals in the East Asian Games in 2018 and a silver medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
The 24-year-old’s success on the amateur Muay Thai stage also came right when mixed martial arts was beginning to boom in the Philippines.
By 2018, the country held five World Titles in ONE Championship, with four of them coming from Team Lakay in ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio, former lightweight king Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, ex-bantamweight titleholder Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon, and former flyweight ruler Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio.
The success of those compatriots pushed Olsim to move into the sport herself. But she soon found her attention divided between competing in Muay Thai and mixed martial arts, and she knew things had to change.
It was then that she decided to join Team Lakay and give all her attention to MMA.
“There came a time when I reflected and asked myself, ‘Why am I training? What am I training for?’ Then I realized that if I really wanted to do it, then I had to pursue it and focus on it solely,” Olsim shares.
“I don’t want to split my time doing everything. Now I want to focus on one thing — becoming a champion.”
And her new team quickly began to provide her with the guidance she needed to start realizing that dream.
“When I moved to Team Lakay, I just really polished my grappling,” she says. “Since I came from a Muay Thai background, they asked me to focus on grappling and wrestling more. The feedback has been good, they’ve been saying that I’m a fast learner.”
Moving Up To The Big Show
It didn’t take long for this fast learner to take her mixed martial arts journey to the global stage.
After a pair of outings in ONE Warrior Series, Olsim made her main roster debut against experienced grappler Maira Mazar at ONE: FISTS OF FURY III this past March. Her performance impressed, and she looked like one of the most complete mixed martial artists the Phillippines had to offer.
Wherever the match went, the new Team Lakay representative was comfortable. She peppered the Brazilian with big shots on the feet and outgrappled her each time the action hit the ground.
In the end, Olsim earned a third-round submission and produced one of the most impressive debuts from a Team Lakay athlete in ONE Championship.
The Filipina’s development was certainly surprising, considering that she had only been with the team for a few short months. But she attributes her fast progression to past experiences, as well as her innate need to win.
“My brother and I are naturally competitive. We were varsity players and we didn’t like losing. I was even told once that maybe I can compete in all sports if I wanted to,” Olsim says.
“[Another one] of the reasons for that rapid development is during our time in the national team. Back then, we knew that we had to fight for our spot, so we really had no choice but to fight and develop quickly.”
Now years after losing badly in her first kickboxing match, Olsim has become a major part of the next generation of athletes from the Philippines who are taking the mixed martial arts world by storm.
It’s an opportunity she doesn’t plan on wasting.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this. I have been looking up to them for a long time, and now I get a chance to follow in their footsteps,” she says. “This only motivates me to work harder in training just so I live up to the lofty billing.”
Becoming a World Champion is certainly atop Olsim’s list of goals in The Home Of Martial Arts, but more than that, she hopes to use her newfound recognition to inspire the younger generation to pursue martial arts.
“I think with success comes the power to inspire the youth, especially in our province, to pursue what they really want,” she says.
“Just being recognized by these kids now, it’s already a great feeling. Now, I want to help them out especially if they want to do martial arts.”