MMA: May Ooi calls time on competitive career, looks ahead to contributing to sport in other ways

SINGAPORE – For the last 18 months, former national swimmer May Ooi had put her life on a “standstill” as she trained to compete in mixed martial arts (MMA) and jiujitsu, the latter at the Asian Games level.

One particular set of e-mail drafts she penned laid unsent in her account for more than a month, but not because of her training and competition schedule.

These were e-mails that she had planned to send to the top executives of MMA organisation One Championship and the management committee of the Jiu Jitsu Association of Singapore (JJAS) to inform them of her retirement from competitive combat sports, which she finally sent last week.

She made the announcement in a statement on her Facebook page on Monday (Jan 7).

“I love competition so much and it’s such a big part of my DNA, so deciding to stop kind of felt like a break-up,” said the 42-year-old, who represented Singapore in swimming at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. “Because it’s MMA and jiujitsu I’m stopping, it’s like breaking up twice.”

When Ooi got a contract with One Championship in mid-2017, she gave herself until the end of 2017 to achieve two goals – to compete in One’s events and to represent Singapore in jiujitsu at the Asiad.

She achieved both, albeit without winning a title in MMA or a medal at the Asian Games, and was satisfied enough to call it a day.

But, when jiu-jitsu was confirmed in November as one of the 56 sports at the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines this year, she agonised over staying on for another year.

“I took two months (to decide) because I needed space, distance and clarity,” said Ooi, who has been competing in MMA competitions since 2014.

“The SEA Games is in November, so if I stick it out and go for it, my life would come to a standstill for another whole year, because that’s what happens when I train to compete. At one point, I had to realise that there is really just 24 hours in a day.”

Both One chief executive officer Chatri Sityodtong and JJAS president Henry Kothagoda gave Ooi their blessings when informed of her decision.

“There will always come a time when a fighter feels he or she should not continue fighting and instead start teaching and grooming future athletes, and I think it’s the right decision by May,” said Kothagoda.

“We are a new NSA, so her experience in dealing with the various (sports authorities) on the high performance side of things will be very useful to us. She also knows how the athletes feel and what they go through.”

Ooi stressed that while she would no longer compete in a cage or out on the mat, she will in no way be detached from sport.

She now spends the bulk of her time teaching capoeira – a martial art that combines elements of dance and music – at the Brazilian Cultural Centre at Turf Club Road, and is also a motivational speaker; she was most recently a keynote speaker at the AIA Financial Advisers Kickoff event on Tuesday.

She is also working with Dr Teoh Chin Sim – who has been a medical officer with the Singapore contingents at various major Games over the last 25 years – on the formation of a Women’s Sports Commission.

“I’m still heavily involved in sports, I’m just coming from a different side,” she said. “I have a lot of experience and value to give to our jiujitsu athletes who will be competing at the SEA Games.

“I also want to help develop a sporting culture for Singapore and getting sports involved in Singaporeans’ lives, particularly children.

“I’ve been an athlete, a coach, back to athlete, and now sports administration… So I feel I’ve come full circle.”

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