“When I was 15, I made a deal with my mum. If I did well for my exams, I wanted to join a martial arts class. My favourite movie is called ‘Never Back Down’ and I thought the characters were super cool. I especially liked the villain and wanted to fight like him, too.

I was actually a very shy kid back then. I mean, I was talkative with friends, but when I was around strangers, I became a complete introvert. I was hoping to build my self-confidence and open up more through Muay Thai.

I started off with group classes at a local gym. They were really enjoyable; I’d learn new skills and practise them in front of the mirror at home. But I’ve always had a competitive spirit, so I decided to try out for the fight team and started signing up for amateur fights a year later.

To be honest, I never took Muay Thai seriously at the time. If I won, I won, and if I lost, I lost. There was no pressure because I looked at training and fighting as a hobby, but things quickly changed after I turned professional at 17.

I wasn’t even planning to make that transition. It was supposed to be my third amateur fight, but the only other person available in my weight class was a pro. When I was asked if I wanted to take on that fight, I started to think that maybe I could do this, you know?

When life gives you opportunities, you should take it. I was young and still had time before National Service. I felt like I was in a place where I could train hard and compete at the next level, so I took a chance and won my debut. As of today, I’ve had a total of nine pro fights. 

My lifestyle is a little different now; I’ve had to be more disciplined. One month before any fight, I have to make certain sacrifices. I can’t go out with friends as much. I train after school and then I go straight home to sleep to get my mind and body ready for the next day.

I run about eight to 10 kilometres in the morning every single day. I then do two rounds of shadow boxing. Once I’m done, I kick the bags for six rounds before doing some pad work, clinch work, sparring and physical conditioning.

Yes, there are days where I don’t want to do any of it. That’s why you cannot rely on motivation alone. You have to put yourself in a head space where winning is very important, so you do whatever it takes. I can’t sleep at night knowing that I short-changed myself.

I think the biggest challenge I faced in this sport was suffering my second consecutive loss via TKO in Thailand. I had never encountered someone who punched so hard. He was so composed and measured, and he dropped me twice in the first round.

When I went back home, the doctor said I had a concussion from getting hit in the head so hard. I had to rest for about a week. It was very demoralising. I had been on a winning streak up to that point, so when I lost twice in a row, it felt like I didn’t have it in me anymore.

When the opportunity came to fight in Thailand again, there was a bit of fear and hesitance. It’s not homeground, and you don’t know who you’re fighting until you’re there. But I found my courage, resumed my training and fought another Thai boy in a five-round fight.

I lost that fight too and even fractured my ribs. My opponent was just too good and way more experienced. But looking back, you always get a good feeling after every fight. Win or lose, you shouldn’t feel bad about yourself if you did your best, and I know I gave it all I had.

I wasn’t able to properly train for three whole months after that fight. My injured ribs limited the things that I could do. But Muay Thai is an eight-limb sport, so when I couldn’t exercise one side of my body, I worked on the other; that’s how I kept myself positive and motivated.

Later this month, I’ll be fighting for the WBC Muay Thai featherweight title at SFC 7. I feel calm. I’ve worked very hard for the past one month, and my training gives me the confidence to overcome anything my opponent has to bring. Even if the fight was tonight, I know I’m ready.

Looking back upon these last few years, you can say that my fighting journey has been a rollercoaster ride. It hasn’t always gone as smoothly as I wanted it to, but that’s life, you know? Things won’t always go your way. 

Sometimes you feel like the path is long, but you need to take things one step and one day at a time. Instead of exhausting your mind thinking about the future, just do your best.

If I can overcome all of my hardships and come out stronger, so can you.” – Wynn Neo, 22, Fighter with Muse Fitness Club

Interview: Arman Shah

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