11-year-old Daryllyn Yeo’s fiery determination and passion for Muay Thai have been burning strong since she was six years old.
Her years of training have prepared her for this moment, as she steps into the ring for her first-ever match.
With the approval of her parents and the confidence of her trainers, the young fighter is ready to unleash her inner warrior against Kristen Lee, a 35-year-old opponent, in an exhibition match at the Elite Championship Muay Thai event on Saturday, 24 June at the Elite Gym.
Both fighters are in the 45kg category.
In the weeks leading up to her fighting debut, Yeo’s training intensified under the watchful eyes of her main trainer Spencer Tay, who is also the chairman of World Boxing Council Muay Thai Singapore.
Yeo trained mainly on Friday evenings, with two sessions on Saturday and in the mornings on Sunday.
However, at such a young age, is she truly prepared to face someone significantly older than her in the ring?
Tay, who has taken Yeo under his wing for over a year and a half, firmly believes so.
“When you look at certain fighters, you can see that she has that fire in her eyes,” he said.
“When she trains, it is different too.
“When she’s sparring, you can see her involvement and she really wants it.
“Although she talks very little, you can see that kind of expression and intensity in every move she makes.
“She also has the heart that wants to go for it (make her debut),” said Tay, in an interview after Yeo’s training session at Eminent Gym.
There is one thing which Yeo, who weighs about 45kg, has in common with her opponent.
Both have never fought before.
“The Muay Thai industry in Singapore is small,” said Tay.
“If I bring her to Thailand she will be fighting someone very high in the ranks.
“Singapore is the best opportunity for her to try it out, especially with someone that had never fought before.
“As long as it’s the same weight, and they have never had any fight experience before, we are able to match them up.”
Tay later added that the two fighters – Yeo and Lee – would only be engaging in friendly light sparring without any intention of causing damage.
Tay also clarified that the poster was a marketing error which had been addressed, in an email to this correspondent.
Yeo, a soft-spoken Primary 5 student, is grateful towards her loving parents for their consistent encouragement throughout her journey in Muay Thai.
She understands that it is not easy for her trainer to arrange matches for her as they are not able to find a suitable fighter within her age-group.
“It is hard to find an opponent my age at my weight,” she said.
“I overcome these challenges by facing opponents who are much older than me.
“My parents are supportive of me joining Muay Thai and it has taught me discipline which is not only important in the sport but also in life which I applied in school, home and at the gym,” expressed Yeo who likes to draw during her free time.
Yeo was about five-years-old when she stumbled upon Muay Thai while shopping with her parents, as she saw other kids attending the Thai traditional martial arts classes.
She then persistently tried to persuade her dad to enroll her for those classes.
Her parents initially hesitated, and her father Daryll Yeo researched other forms of martial arts such as Taekwondo, Karate and Aikido which was more popular at that time.
Ultimately he was impressed by the physical and mental benefits that Muay Thai offered, including discipline, self-defense, which could also improve one’s overall fitness.
And after discussing with her mom and seeing his daughter’s fervent dedication and enthusiasm, they finally gave their full support to Yeo’s passion for Muay Thai.
“It was a mixed reaction,” said Daryll.
“I am happy but yet worried at the same time.
“We are happy for her because it is a test for her, and worried because she is my daughter.
“But just let her go,we fully support her,” replied Daryll when asked how he and the wife felt about her 11-year-old daughter making her Muay Thai debut against an older opponent.
He added that his daughter also went for swimming “but all she did was just play in the water.”
“But then when she comes to the gym, it’s like she’s another person,” he said.
“She’s so much happier, and looks very carefree and so that’s when we know that her passion is in Muay Thai,” added Daryll who himself is four years older than the fighter who will face her daughter on 24 June.
THE OPPORTUNITY IN MUAY THAI
The upcoming fight presents an opportunity for the trainer to assess Yeo’s ability to withstand the physical and mental challenges in Muay Thai, and whether she will continue beyond her first fight.
Regardless of the outcome, this fight serves as a valuable learning experience and a stepping stone towards future victories and potential championship wins.
“Many fighters, they just want to experience it,” said Tay.
“So they just do one fight and then they say okay I’m done and I have completed my Muay Thai journey.
“So we have to see how she performs in this match, whether she is going to give up easily in the ring or will she keep going and keep the fire burning throughout all the rounds?
“After that we will sit down with her and the parents to evaluate her and discuss what is next for her,” explained Tay.
Tay probably won’t be worried too much about losing his fighter as Yeo is determined to stay in the sport for the long run as she is already thinking of future matches and striving to bring glory to her trainer and the country.
“I not only hope to take the championship belt for Eminent gym and Singapore, but also to make those trainers who trained me proud,” said the 11-year-old.
“I would love to stay in the sport for as long as I can and maybe one day I can be a trainer too like coach Spencer and teach new fighters.”
If you have a story to share, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will have your story posted on Singapore’s number 1 independent sports platform dedicated to local sports.
*STORY UPDATED AT 11AM WITH DETAILS ABOUT THE LIGHT SPARRING SESSION