“When I first started boxing, there were so few female boxers around. I can probably name you one or two female boxers I knew from back then. In 2015, when Singapore hosted the SEA Games for the first time since the 80s, I was part of the first women’s team to compete.

My first SEA Games was a complete and utter crazy experience. Singapore being Singapore, everything was hyped up and over the top – the lights, the projection, the production. It was incredibly surreal. I was NOT ready for any of it.

My opponent was Josie Gabuco. She was the 48kg world champion from the Philippines. Not even Asian champion – world champion. When I saw the draw sheet, I wondered, should I be happy? They did say work hard until your idols become your rivals.

I don’t remember much of the fight. It was such an out-of-body experience. I remember my friends turned up; my parents turned up. I heard people shouting my name and basically that was it. I lost the fight and I’ve not went back to watch it since.

The 2019 SEA Games was very different. There was a quiet excitement leading up to it. The Philippines hosted, and we all knew we were going to be underdogs especially when you consider what boxing means to the people there, but I was prepared for what was to come.

Before the draw sheet came out, I was looking at a list of potential opponents. Amongst them were a Vietnamese girl who’s the Asian champion, a Thai girl who’s a pro boxer and Asia Pacific champion and a Cambodian girl who’s a ONE Championship fighter. 

I was matched with the fighter from the Philippines who’s a regional and European medalist. Even though I knew I was physically smaller and the one with less experience and training prep, I wanted to go in and bring the fight to her to the best of my abilities. 

I knew there was nothing for me to lose since she was fighting on home ground and expected to win, so I had hoped to just give it my all and fight with my heart. I lost but I asked the universe for a fight and a performance that I could be proud of and boom, I got it.

What’s next? My coach has been asking me that too but I’m not sure. I have no immediate plans after the SEA Games. I need to find something that sparks joy in my heart. It’s actually been a dream of mine to start something female boxing-related on the side.

I’ve been toying with the idea of organising training sessions for girls twice a week. But what’s the end goal? Just to develop female competitors? I don’t know, but these days I find more joy in getting to be part of a team that can help the hungry, upcoming lions.

I think it’s an honour to be one of the first few women to play a monumental role in growing the local boxing scene, but if anything, I cannot wait for the next bunch of boxers to keep it going. Without continuation and development, what’s the point of being the first?

But with regards to my personal career in competitive amateur boxing, maybe I’ll quit after this year. Maybe my hands will get itchy to box again and I’ll make a comeback. I’m 33 already and sometimes I wonder what am I even doing with my life?

Competition can be draining. I need to balance it with my work. I’ve been taking time off work and I need to go back to that while still figuring out how to not leave boxing aside. It’s hard to be a good boxer if you’re not consistent.

It’s a struggle. Even leading up to the 2015 SEA Games, people were questioning why I wanted to do this? What good is it for you? You’re gonna get injured. What if this and that? What’s the point in boxing?

Boxing is such an enigma. There’s just something very ironic about it. It’s predictable yet so unpredictable. We fight in a ring even though it’s a square. We try to kill each other for three rounds; but, at the end of it, we respect each other even more.

It doesn’t make sense and I don’t quite know how to explain it, but for nine whole minutes, you feel everything. It’s a great emotional release. You leave the ring proud because you overcame it, you finished it, you did it.

Maybe boxing keeps me young. People who are in their late twenties would go I’m too old for boxing. Bitch, please! There’s a reason why amateur boxing is allowed until 40. As for now, I will go as far as my body allows me and as long as my heart is still in it.” – Leona Hui, 33, National Boxer

Interview by: Arman Shah