In less than five years, Melvin “Overkill” Yeoh transformed Jihin “Shadow Cat” Radzuan from a regular athlete into one of the leading atomweight mixed martial artists in ONE Championship.
Yeoh, a former ONE Championship featherweight competitor, has been personally coaching the female warrior at his Ultimate MMA Academy in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and has witnessed firsthand her meteoric rise to stardom.
The Malaysian mixed martial arts pioneer may have been hesitant to initially train the “Shadow Cat,” but she quickly won him over, and now he believes the 21-year-old can become a future ONE World Champion.
In this exclusive interview, Yeoh talks about the beginning of Jihin’s martial arts journey, the challenges she has faced, and the goals he has for his star pupil.
ONE Championship: What were your first impressions of Jihin when she first came to Ultimate MMA Academy in September 2014?
Melvin Yeoh: I didn’t know much about her when she first arrived at my gym. She was under a couple of coaches who were mostly involved in the gym at that time. She attended a lot of BJJ, Muay Thai, and mixed martial arts classes.
One day, she told me that she wanted to make some money out of this, and in 2016, I took charge of her coaching. I signed her up for MIMMA 4, and guided her from the tryouts in Johor right up to her title win.
ONE: Is there any particular reason why you decided to take charge?
MY: First off, I don’t like to invest a lot of time in random students because a lot of them train for fun. They will tell you they want to make this their main job for a month, and the next month you won’t see them at the gym anymore.
With her, it was different. I realized she was a very focused student. I told her you can make a career out of this, and there was a good path for her to do so. As long as she trusted my words and the process, it could happen. In short, I saw the potential and decided to train her.
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ONE: Did you think she was destined for success? Or did you just want to put her out there and see how she fared?
MY: I think it was a mixture of both. The level of mixed martial arts back then is different compared to what it is today.
Back then, even if she couldn’t mix her takedowns with her striking, there was always a way to win. It was a very one-dimensional thing back then. Even if you only had one skill set, you would still be able to get past a lot of opponents. Now, it’s different. You need to be a well-rounded athlete to achieve success.
ONE: What was the next step for Jihin after she won the MIMMA Women’s Title?
MY: I thought about sending in a request to ONE Championship at that time, but I changed my mind and wanted her to compete in MIMMA 5 instead. At that point, there were a lot of critics who said she had a lot of weaknesses, so we competed in a lot of different disciplines to prove them wrong.
In her Muay Thai debut, she achieved a second-round knockout and won the F3 Championship belt. Then, she won another title in a Johor Muay Thai event. A month later, I asked her to participate in a Super-16 tournament in Ultimate Beatdown, and she fought against a very tough Singaporean girl. Thankfully, she survived.
Two more belts followed and when it came to MIMMA 5, a couple of her opponents bailed on her, so we stopped pursuing that. After that, I decided to let her turn pro at Ultimate Beatdown in July 2017, and a month later she signed with ONE.
ONE: She proved her worth on the global stage in no time, securing three straight wins against highly-skilled opponents. What was the biggest strength you saw in her at that time?
MY: Her ability to learn things very fast. All I had to do was teach her one thing, and she picked it up. Executing the move is one thing, but she would go into sparring and use that new technique I taught her very well. She applied in a real-life scenario on a couple of occasions, and that surprised me.
Besides that, her stubbornness was also becoming one of her biggest strengths – depending on how you see it. No matter what, she always wants to prove you wrong.
ONE: Did she exceed your expectations in the Circle?
MY: Yes. I’ve followed ONE for a long time, and the [atomweight] division is so much more competitive now as compared to its earlier years. She overcame three tough opponents.
Puja Tomar wasn’t an easy opponent – her record may not be perfect, but she knows what she needs to do to win. Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol was another tricky test. She fought six times [in 2018], and her only loss came against Jihin. Jenny Huang was also a quality opponent.
I wouldn’t settle for a mediocre athlete. I wanted her to become one of the division’s best. There is always so much room for growth.
ONE: Moving forward, how much more room for growth does Jihin possess and what are you working on with her now?
MY: The division is getting stacked every year. More fighters can knock you out, submit you, and punish an opponent on the ground. As of now, we are working on ways to make her fights more interesting.
Anybody can fight, but fans will only remember special matches. There’s no way an athlete will reach the top if they’re going to put on a boring fight. It’s not easy to just make it interesting, so we’re working on it. You just need to keep surprising the audiences with many “wow” moments.
ONE: Who would you like to see Jihin face next?
MY: Someone who will hunt for the finish. For a long time, we’ve focused a lot on the ground game and stand-up, so she is very equipped in those departments. If there is an athlete out there who is going to throw everything at Jihin, as scary as it may seem, it could be the perfect opponent for her.
ONE: Finally, how many times do you expect the “Shadow Cat” to compete in the Circle this year?
MY: I believe there is a possibility for her to fight at least twice this year. Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will end by May or June, so I’m targeting July for her first match, and another one at the end of the year whenever ONE comes to Kuala Lumpur.