“Mighty” May Ooi’s life has always been about facing and overcoming challenges.
Ooi has always taken adversity in her stride, including intensive swimming training as a child, proudly competing for Singapore in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games, transitioning into martial arts in her 30s, and mourning the loss of her fiancé, who died last year in a motorcycle accident.
Through the good and bad times, Ooi has always come through, and she plans to keep it that way. On Friday, 24 November, she will step into the cage, in front of what promises to be a roaring home crowd in Singapore, and clash with Cambodia’s Vy Srey Khouch at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT.
“I was competing since I was 9 years old,” she says. “Life takes you in crazy directions, sometimes. It has now catapulted me into a cage.”
Ooi stuck her landing perfectly, rallying from an early knockdown in her promotional debut at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS last August in Kuala Lumpur. There, she pulled off a stunning upset, and submitted Malaysian heroine Ann “Athena” Osman via rear-naked choke in the first round.
Today, Ooi’s life as a martial artist, as well as running a gym that teaches capoeira to hundreds of children, are a world away from her highly successful swimming career, which saw her win countless medals for Singapore.
“I have always enjoyed training and competing, but when you have to compete at this level, it takes total commitment, and you have to change your other commitments,” she explains. “But when the stars align, you know you have to do it.”
The Singaporean’s journey into martial arts and eventual competition began eight years ago, and was firmly guided by Silvio Romero da Silva, her late fiancé. Da Silva, a Brazilian martial artist and instructor, was killed last December in a motorcycle accident in the Indonesian resort island of Bali, where he ran a studio.
“His death was really sudden, and even as we speak, I am dealing with it,” Ooi says. “He was a big part of my life, and he was the one who groomed me for the longest time. And when he was still alive, he always talked about me competing with ONE.”
Initially, she did not want to to test herself in the cage, feeling that her days as an elite athlete were over.
“I did not feel like I had a need to do it. It was something that he wanted,” Ooi says of da Silva. “Deep down inside me, this is what he had wanted. So, basically, I am doing this to fulfill his memory. This is his last wish.”
Despite her competitive pedigree, the “Mighty” athlete considers her martial arts career still in its infancy. By saying she plans on doing “a number of bouts” in the coming years, she confirms that her competitive fire is far from being extinguished.
One particular thing that motivates her is the fact that ONE currently does not have a women’s strawweight world champion.
“I have been signed for a number of bouts, and I am competing in a division that does not have a title holder. So it is wide open, and I have already beaten Ann Osman,” she says. “I do not do stuff just to do stuff. Whether or not I attain it is a different matter.”
At the moment, however, Ooi’s focus is squarely on Vy Srey Khouch, a highly-skilled Cambodian boxer and Kun Khmer champion.
Though Ooi was more successful against a common opponent in Ann Osman, she is taking this upcoming challenge very seriously, and acknowledges the danger her Cambodian foe presents.
“She is obviously a kickboxer, but she is a good striker. You have to be careful in the cage,” the Singaporean explains.
“I cannot speak for the other martial artists, but for me, there is always a certain level of uncertainty, because you never know what is going to happen. Yeah, there is fear, but it has been managed in such a way that I do not really feel it anymore. There has to be some level of fear being in there, but you have to manage it.”