By Terence Tong, published here with author's kind permission
Nicole Chua is one heck of a girl. She kicks ass (literally!), and having been to Thailand to train and fight on more than a few occasions, Nicole is probably known as Singapore's most experienced female Muay Thai fighter by far. I recently got a chance to sit down to talk to her about her most recent exploits and here it is, an insight into Singapore's upcoming fight talent.
Terence Tong: Hi Nicole, it's been a while since we've met. How're you doing and what are you up to nowadays?
Nicole Chua: Hi Terence, I am good. Had a fight in Phuket in March as you are aware. And then had a month of holiday without Muay Thai, spent some quality time with my family and friends. I just got back to training recently. Currently sorting out my visa, am preparing to go over to Thailand soon.
T.T: How did you do in your most recent fight in Thailand?
N.C: My last fight was in Phuket in March. It's a big event, the annual Sinbi Naiharn Charity fight, where the proceeds go towards a local school. It was a good experience. I lost on points though, probably because I couldn’t perform in the clinch.
Nicole and her Thai opponent in the clinch.
T.T: I'm sure our readers will be interested in knowing more about you. What made you decide to take up Muay Thai? When did you decide to do it seriously?
N.C: Everyone's asking me this question. I was first introduced to Muay Thai by my uncle. Back then, I had absolutely no idea of what Muay Thai was at all. At the time I was looking to do some sort of sport just for fitness.
I started off with First MuayThai at Turf City under Alvin. I started training just for fitness, but I really enjoyed the sport and training and found myself gradually addicted to Muay Thai. It's weird but there's just an element about Muay Thai that gets people hooked onto it.
When First MuayThai closed, I was referred to Master Johnnie from Hilltop. Training at Hilltop was different because the trainers were pretty aggressive, but at the same time fun-loving people. They were the ones who inspired me to take my first fight. I trained for more than 5 years before I had my first fight and my first amateur match was at “The Return of Contenders”.
I used to be an Accounts Executive. But one day I just got sick of the dull and boring 9-5 working routine that I decided to strike out on an adventure of my own. That was when I went to Sinbi Muaythai in Phuket for full time training alone.
T.T: What are some of the things you had to give up in order to pursue your dream?
N.C: I had to make just a tonne of sacrifices. It’s more or less impossible to pursue a fighting career when you have to work a full-time job. It was a hard decision to make, but I chose to give up my job and concentrate on training that is required in order to fight professionally. Giving up my career simply meant that I practically had no income! To be honest, it’s not easy having to come up with my own savings to pay for training, accommodation and expenses in Thailand. I need to be really thrifty and forsaking my executive spending pattern was one of the things which I had to give up.
T.T: How did people react to your decision of quitting a proper job for a career in the fight game?
N.C: My family never liked the idea of me practicing Muay Thai because they feel that it’s violent and dangerous - they just don't see it as a career a woman should have. Friends and family are concerned about my safety and well-being.
Most importantly, most people were worried about my career prospects in a realistic society like Singapore. They ask questions like: where do you see yourself in 1 or 2 years time, when your peers are already earning big bucks, having a lot of savings, while you've spent all your savings and have to start all over again.
I will be lying if I say I am not worried or concerned at all. I do understand what they are getting at, but I know perfectly that I do not want to live my life like everyone else: to study, work, get married and then have kids. I want to accomplish and fulfill my dream while I am still young, while I still have got what it takes to do it now. All the rest can come later.
I know I will be working for the rest of my life after that. But at the very least, I could say that I did something I liked, something different from the rest and I'll have interesting stories for the grandkids! The only thing that affects me is that I feel bad for not having time for my family and friends. Preparing for fights, training 2 sessions a day means I have little to no extra leisure time. You'll be surprised that there are a lot of talents in Singapore, many better than me, but they are just not willing to make these sacrifices.
I really hope Singapore Sports Council will recognize local talents in Muay Thai just like any other sport and offer sponsorships to allow more to go out of Singapore and get more experience internationally.
T.T: How long do you intend to continue training and fighting?
N.C: I guess you know there’s an age limit for every sportsman. Unfortunately, an athlete in a combat sport like Muay Thai have short sporting lifespans. I try not to fix and confine myself to a specific time frame and hope to fight for as long as I can. I simply just train hard and hope I get opportunities to fight in bigger events to gain more experience. The Muay Thai World Championships, for example, was an eye opener for me.
Representing Singapore at the World Muay Thai Championships in Bangkok, 2009.
T.T: What do you enjoy most about Muay Thai?
N.C: One World, One Muay Thai. It's all about making friends. It's interesting how people from all over the world get together because of their common interest in Muay Thai. Training in Thailand has allowed me to meet so many people from all over the world, it gives me a chance to learn from different cultures and see new perspectives. It's really the best thing I like about Muay Thai.
I also find it fascinating to see and learn how Buddhist culture is incorporated into Muay Thai. For example, the sealing of the ring, the wai khru pre-fight dance, the mongkong. It's just amazing to see that although it is a modern sport, Muay Thai still has a strong traditional background. I love that.
T.T: What has been your most memorable event in your Muay Thai career so far?
N.C: That will have to be my first fight in Thailand! It was memorable for me because it was my very first professional fight and I was all alone in Thailand. My trainer wanted a deal that no elbows were to be allowed in the fight. The promoter was really against it in the first place, but finally agreed.
I saw my opponent only when I was in the ring and she was tall and big! She was definitely heavier than me by some amount, a huge mismatch, and when the fight started she was throwing elbows like there was no tomorrow! I was completely thrown off guard, I had thought that no elbows were allowed and here she was slicing away with her elbows!
The end of the night resulted in a list of many firsts for me: my first professional fight, my first fight alone in a foreign country and my very first black eye!
Trainers from Sinbi Muay Thai attending to Nicole's swollen right eye.
T.T: When you're not training at Sinbi Muay Thai in Phuket, in Singapore where do you train at?
N.C: I train at Hilltop The Gym in Singapore under the guidance of Master Johnnie. Hilltop is just like a second home to me. I am really fortunate to have a kind Master, a great trainer and best of all, a group of helpful training mates. Personally, I tend pick things up really slow and it takes a lot of effort to coach me compared to others. The trainer’s patience matters a lot, in this respect. I'm glad that my trainer is sensitive to athletes’ needs and takes an athlete-centered approach to training. He has well-planned and sound training programmes for each individual. He sets goals together with me and is always able to motivate me effectively. My trainer keeps communication open and provides constructive feedback, so I could identify areas to work and improve on.
N.C: Talking about the other fighters in the gym, they are just indispensable. They are remarkable training mates and friends. I am thankful for them being constantly around, making training and fighting not seem like work. We have a good vibe going in the gym and we're always motivating one another in and out of the ring. The more experienced fighters never fail to share their knowledge with me and are exceptionally generous when it comes to that. I wouldn’t have been what I am today, if not for all of them.
T.T: Other than Phuket, where else in Thailand have you been to? And which location is your favourite place?
N.C: I have been to Bangkok and Hat Yai as well. I would say that Phuket is still my favorite place in Thailand, probably due to the peaceful and relaxed environment making it perfect for any occasion. Bangkok is nice for shopping.
T.T: What are some of your hobbies and what do you like to do in your free time?
N.C: Muay Thai! I do most sports like badminton, swimming, jogging, but Muay Thai by far is still my favorite. I love to learn about different languages and will always try to use whatever little free time I have, to do some self study and revision. I like shopping, karaoke and movies too.
T.T: Some fun questions before we go! Choose one. Dogs or Cats?
N.C: Dogs. Cats are mysterious and evil!
T.T: Your worst habit?
N.C: Tendency of leaving my stuff around and forgetting where I left it!
T.T: Favourite Colour?
N.C: Black and white.
T.T: Last movie you watched?
N.C: Ip Man 2. Superb movie, loving Donnie Yen.
T.T: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
N.C: Married with kids, a normal white collar leading a normal life.
T.T: Thank you for taking the time out to have a chat Nicole!
N.C: No problem it was fun!
Look out for more of Nicole in the near future!
Do visit Terence's blog at http://www.sim.edu.sg/sge/pub/blogs/terence/index.cfm