Few up-and-coming martial artists would accept a bout against Itsuki “Strong Heart Fighter” Hirata on short notice, but Nyrene “Neutron Bomb” Crowley sees it as her chance to show martial arts fans that anything is possible.
Though she had not yet earned the sought-after six-figure contract for the big show from ONE’s developmental league, she was always involved in competitive and exciting bouts, and never backed down from a challenge, so she was the perfect candidate to step up in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Plus, true to character, she had no hesitation about accepting the bout.
“I was out at dinner with my partner. He was sat across from me and he said, ‘So…’ Immediately in my head I thought, ‘This could be good or bad,’ and I really, honestly did not expect that to come out of his mouth,” she recalls.
“This opportunity really came from left-field and I was honestly in shock. Both my coach and partner were like, ‘Do you want this?’ and I didn’t even think about it. I just said, ‘Yes, I want it!’
“Since I left New Zealand, this was what I was working towards, so the second they told me, straight away my brain clicked into preparation – thinking about what I needed to do.”
Hirata is a formidable adversary. The Japanese star has submitted all five of her opponents, including two in The Home Of Martial Arts.
She would have been a daunting opponent without several weeks of preparation. Luckily, Crowley never let herself ease off in the gym after her last match, so she feels sharp and well-conditioned.
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“I was straight back in the gym after that fight in December. I’ve been getting completely ready to go, and it paid off,” explains the 30-year-old Kiwi.
She also has faith her coaches at Bali MMA can come up with a game plan to take out “Strong Heart Fighter” despite the short time they have had to study her skills.
“All of my trust has gone into my coaches and their guidance for this two-week camp. They’ve done the analysis on her last fights,” Crowley adds.
“I know, of course, she is going to be tough – all girl fighters are tough – but I completely, 100-percent trust my coaches. They are taking control and leading the direction, so everything they tell me to do, I do.
“Obviously I started with Muay Thai so it’s going to be classic stand-up versus grappler match but we’ll see how it goes. I’m incredibly excited. It’s going to be a really good challenge for me, and win or lose, this is going to make me a better martial artist.
“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take on one of the top prospects coming out of Japan, and I am super-focused and determined to implement the game plan that we’re working on.”
Now that she has stepped up to the big stage in the world’s largest martial arts organization, Crowley’s main motivation is to show that she belongs in the top tier.
As ONE’s first female Kiwi athlete, she hopes she can inspire others to follow her path, even when the odds are stacked against them.
“Leading up [to the event], I will be visualizing and working to showcase the best of my abilities, and going out there to give a good show,” says “Neutron Bomb.”
“Regardless of the outcome – you never go into a fight wanting to lose and I am preparing to win – this whole journey for me is about inspiring people to follow their dreams, never giving up, chasing the thing that fuels the fire in your heart instead of settling.
“Above everything, this fight is symbolic of something that sits a little higher, and I just want people, especially in New Zealand, to see that things are possible.”