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Sazali Abdul Aziz
The New Paper
19 August 2017
She was up against an opponent 10 years younger than her, and faced a vociferous 10,000-strong crowd cheering on the local favourite.
It mattered little to mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter May Ooi.
The 41-year-old Singaporean made it a dream debut to remember when she choked out Malaysian Ann Osman in the first round of the ONE Championship's Quest for Greatness event at the Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur last night.
"This has been an amazing night," Ooi told The New Paper.
"Not just for me and my team of trainers, but for all of Singapore."
Before the start of the fight, Ooi, a former national swimmer, wore a broad smile and strode to the ring proudly waving the Singapore flag.
But the loudest cheers from the sold-out crowd were reserved for local favourite Ann .
With eight ONE Championship fights (five wins and three losses) under her belt, the 31-year-old Malaysian was the favourite last night.
Ooi, on the other hand, had four previous MMA fights outside of ONE Championship, winning twice and losing twice.
Ann seized the early initiative when she connected with a sweet right hook that floored Ooi after just 19 seconds.
But the Singaporean showed remarkable guts and resilience to get back on her feet, even producing a takedown of her own before raining elbows on Ann.
Ann, however, showed her experience and toughness to get out of that pickle.
The Sabah native then took Ooi to the mat with a headlock takedown.
But Ooi saw an opening and expertly pulled off a reversal and applied a rear naked choke on her opponent.
As Ooi lay on Ann's back, forcing the Malaysian to tap 3min 27sec into the first round, the crowd at Stadium Negara - which had roared in approval each time their hometown fighter took her rival from across the Causeway down onto the mat - was stunned into silence.
The former national swimmer had made another splash in Kuala Lumpur, 28 years after she won two bronze medals as a 13-year-old on her SEA Games debut in 1989.
It was an emotional victory for the trained medical doctor.
Ooi's fiance Silvio Romero da Silva, who had also introduced her to martial arts eight years ago, died at the age of 38 in a motorbike accident in Bali last December.
Dedicating last night's victory to da Silva, she said: "Life is far from perfect.
"But, if you work with what you have and roll with the punches, the universe has a way of aligning everything for you.
"All you need to do is have faith.
"And I would like to thank everyone for believing in me, and for standing by me through thick and thin.
"This victory is dedicated to all Singaporeans. We stand united."
Ooi, who also teaches children capoeira at the Brazilian Cultural Centre at Turf Club Road, will stay on in KL to cheer on the Singapore women's rugby sevens team at the SEA Games, which officially begins today.