WHEN mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Ella Tang, 24, saw a bunch of steel poles hurtling toward the car she was in, she thought her life was over.
“If it weren’t for the lessons I learnt through MMA, like mental toughness, control over one’s reactions and hand-eye coordination, I would’ve been seriously injured,” said Tang during an interview with R.AGE at a recent ONE Fighting Championship (ONE FC) demonstration event. She narrowly escaped death by protecting her head and face in time (MMA-honed reflexes FTW!).
The car was completely wrecked, but she managed to walk away with just 13 stitches on her arms and legs.
Barely a month after her near-death experience, she was approached by MMA promoters ONE FC with a contract. The catch: If she took it, she would have to fight in the next ONE FC championship in Jakarta, leaving her with about four weeks to train.
It wasn’t the ideal amount of time, especially given her injuries from the car accident, but she signed anyway.
“I had been waiting a long time for this chance,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let it go.”
Unsurprisingly, her love for martial arts initially received a lot of censure from her parents because she was always coming home battered and bruised after her fights.
“When I came back with swollen, bruised eyes, my parents were like, ‘seriously, are you sure about this?’” she said with a laugh.
“But even my parents noticed that martial arts made me change. I used to be naughty but I learnt self-discipline through Taekwondo,” she said.
Tang started learning Taekwondo at 13, before switching to Muay Thai in 2009. Just a year later, she took part in her first MMA fight, becoming one of the first Malaysian female fighters to do so.
Today, Tang is part of a growing pool of promising young MMA fighters in Malaysia. Other notable names include Saiful Merican, 27, who has been practising Muay Thai since he was 11, and Gianni Suba, 21, who is rising rapidly through the ranks.
“MMA is definitely growing in Malaysia,” said MMA superstar Peter Davis. “With the support of our Youth and Sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin, there are now many gyms that churn out new Malaysian MMA stars.”
Davis also noted that while ONE FC is a great platform to raise our local fighters onto the world stage, the Malaysian fighters themselves need to do their bit.
“They need to focus on individual martial arts and hone their skills even when they are not fighting,” he said, adding that local MMA newcomers are “not quite up to scratch” in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Honing skills is exactly what Tang intends to do. She fought in the Jakarta championship, against her doctor’s orders and under a heavy dose of antibiotics.
She lost the fight, narrowly, but it is clear to see that Tang is a true fighter, both in body and spirit.
“The doctor tried to stop me, but I wanted to fight,” she said earnestly.
“I told him not to worry. When I step in the ring, I am no longer injured. I can just keep going.”