Singapore cage-fighter seeks victory
- 15 October 2013
- From the section Asia
Sherilyn Lim looks me hard in the eyes and says she can win. "No doubt," she says. "No doubt at all."
And as she smiles slightly, I believe her. She's only 161cm (1.61m) tall and weighs just 52 kilos (114lbs), but I have absolute faith in her ability to pummel her female opponent to the floor in her first-ever professional fight.
Sherilyn Lim is a cage fighter. She pulls her shoulder-length hair into a tight pony tail, takes off her glasses and punches, kicks and grapples her opponent until someone is declared the winner. The cage keeps the protagonists in the ring.
The official name of cage fighting is mixed martial arts. It's a combination of everything from the Thai martial art of muay thai to taekwondo, wrestling and jiu jitsu. And there are rules.
"No groin shots, no shots to the back of the head or the spine, and also you can't manipulate the small joints, for example your fingers and your toes. You can't stick any part of your fingers in any orifices: eyes, nose, mouth, ears," says Ms Lim.
But you can punch the face? "Yes you can punch the face, you can punch the face." And there's that smile again.
Ms Lim is passionate about fighting. "When I step into that cage it really gets my heart pumping," she says. "This sport is the best thing I've ever done in my life."
It's also a sport that's far from the norm for a 23-year-old women, anywhere in the world, and perhaps especially in Asia.
But Ms Lim doesn't see herself as a role model. "That's too huge a tag," she says. "If anything I hope that if people, if anybody manages to see me fight… hopefully they'll understand that it doesn't matter who you are: male, female, Asian, non Asian - you can do things that you want to.
"Just because there's a societal stereotype in a certain area or region, [should I] try to fit myself into it? If you want to try something new in your life, why not?"
So how does a young Singaporean woman, who used to play table tennis and learn the piano, end up fighting in a cage? For Ms Lim, it started as a way to lose weight.
"I was always a fat kid, like really fat… so I wanted to try something more physically demanding compared to other sports that I tried before."
Telling her parents about her new exercise programme was something Ms Lim worried about, but her family, including her elder brother, are keen supporters.
"At first I wasn't sure how they would react because it's not every day you prepare yourself for your child to say, hey mum, I'm going to do this cage fighting thing," she says.
"But it turned out pretty okay. I was telling them over dinner and the first question was: 'Can we go and watch?' - so that's a pretty good outcome."
Her friends are also supportive, especially fellow martial arts lover Joycelyn Xie. Ms Xie hasn't ruled out fighting in the cage herself one day, although she's well aware it is an unusual pursuit.
"Most of my other girlfriends think this is too much, they worry about how they look, how they're going to be when they become wives, what are they going to tell their children, everything. I don't really care," Ms Xie says.
And what about Ms Lim's reaction to those concerns? "I think I'll tell my kids your mum kicked ass," says Ms Lim, and while she's laughing, you know she means it.
On and off for the past six years, Ms Lim has been trained by Darren de Silva, who is clearly proud of his student.
He says her mindset has helped her succeed.
"Whenever she comes in the cage, she knows how to switch on that game, you know she has that mindset, that never-say-die attitude, and I think that's why she's going to win," he says.
And he is not worried she will get hurt. "I believe in this: if you train well and prepare for everything you're not going to get hurt."
In fact promoters of the sport say there are few injuries, with referees strictly controlling every fight. Ms Lim has bruises on her legs, but her face is untouched.
As part of her daily routine, Ms Lim pummelled a punching bag, sparred with her trainer, grappled with a male fighter in pools of sweat on a floor mat (it was impossible to tell who was winning), skipped, did push ups and never seemed out of breath.
It's stamina she'll need when it comes to her first professional fight, being staged in Singapore.
But when she's in the ring, Ms Lim says it's not just about winning. "Winning is important but knowing I've gone in there and given it 200%, that is more important than winning."
At the end of training, Ms Lim puts her glasses back on and lets down her hair. If you passed her in the street, you'd think she was just like any other young, fit Singaporean.
It's a mistake her opponent would be wise not to make.