The Malaysian will fight in enemy territory when she makes her promotional debut against fellow newcomer Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM, which broadcasts live on Saturday Night, 11 March, from the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.
However, she is used to dealing with high-pressure situations. Outside of the cage, she is Dr. Boniface to her patients and co-workers. Boniface, by trade and training, is a medical doctor who works in the Emergency & Trauma Department at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah in Malaysia. It is a highly-stressful job that consistently keeps her on her toes.
“I have to manage a lot of pressure and quick thinking there, especially working in emergency,” the National University of Malaysia graduate explains.
As for the circumstances surrounding her professional MMA career, Boniface actually stumbled onto MMA by accident three years ago. At the urging of a friend, she attended a class at ONE fighter AJ “Pyro” Lias Mansor’s gym, the Borneo Tribal Squad MMA & Fitness Factory. She fell in love with MMA that very day upon stepping into the gym.
Boniface did not walk into the gym as a total novice, however. The eldest of five children already had an extensive history with martial arts.
“My first martial art was taekwondo, which I practiced when I was a student and earned a black belt in,” she explains. “I started training martial arts initially for self-defense. As time went by, it helped me a lot in so many ways, be it self-confidence, stress management, honor, discipline, love, trust, loyalty, and respect.”
Though the atomweight thoroughly enjoyed training in the various martial arts, it was also an escape for her to de-stress from the rigors of working inside the hospital. After all, being a medical doctor can be a very demanding occupation. In fact, it kicked her training into overdrive. That is when Mansor made her an offer she could not refuse.
“Coach AJ (Mansor) offered me a golden opportunity to become a professional fighter. I thought it would be fun and challenging. Without hesitating, I just said yes,” she recalls. “At that time, I was actually struggling with the stress in my workplace and wanted something to channel it the right way. I think I made the right decision!”
The doctor got some crucial experience before making the jump to professional MMA. She earned a couple of gold medals in regional BJJ competitions and gained a pair of quick submission victories in One Silat, a Malaysian promotion rooted in the national martial art of silat. By doing so, she won over one skeptical face in the crowd.
“At first, my mom was not very happy with me getting involved in this rough sport,” Boniface admits. “When I competed in One Silat, her heart opened, and now she is my number one fan.”
In July 2016, Boniface made her official pro MMA debut at Thai promotion Full Metal Dojo’s show in Bangkok, where she took on Sunisa Srisan. The “Ice Comet” would lose the fight in the second round via TKO, but that night, she learned some of the biggest lessons of her young fighting career.
“I learned to trust myself, as well as my corner and coach. I learned how important it is to have faith and always believe in my own ability 100 per cent, all of the time. I have so many people around me, who love me and support me, but in the end, it is always only going to be just me, myself, and I,” she states.
“I am in charge of my life and I am going to make myself proud of what I do — with my career, sports, and with family, friends and the community. Fighting teaches me to work hard, push what I believe my limits are, be proud of what I accomplish, and stay humble.”
Boniface’s limits will be tested at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM. With the grains of sand in the hourglass quickly draining until her promotional debut on the biggest MMA stage in Asia, she is making her final preparations before she stands across the cage from Ishige.
Ishige, who will be making her professional MMA debut, trains out of Bangkok Fight Lab and has worked extensively with her boyfriend, surging lightweight and Thai MMA pioneer Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai. Although the “Ice Comet” may have a slight experience advantage, she is not taking her opponent lightly by any means.
“She looks like a well-rounded fighter. This is going to be an awesome fight,” the Malaysian says. “I feel proud representing my team, my family, my state, and my country. I feel nervous. I feel excited.”
Boniface may be experiencing lots of different emotions, including a bit of pressure. But those are the situations she has always thrived in, and will continue to do so in the future.
At just 20, the Team Quest Thailand product holds a spotless 7-0 record with six of those wins coming in the first round, and plans to extend his unbeaten streak on March 11, at ONE: Warrior Kingdom.
He will kick off the preliminary portion of the event when he squares off against Filipino wushu champion Rabin “The Rock” Catalan in front of his countrymen at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.
Mitsatit, a Northern Thailand Muay Thai champion who has been steadily improving his ground game, wants to set the pace for the night’s activities. He aims to make a statement no one will soon forget, and stop Catalan with a highlight-reel finish via strikes.
The Chiang Mai native started his martial arts journey at the age of 14, picking up Muay Thai because he was a smaller kid who was picked on and bullied by others. Soon, he excelled in the discipline, and wanted to take his game to the next level. But still looked upon as a child in his parents’ eyes, they did not allow him to compete professionally.
“My family did not allow me to fight in Muay Thai. I still fought in Muay Thai, but my family did not know,” he admits. “After 30 fights, my family found out, and they finally said it was okay.”
“The Smiling Assassin” experienced quite a bit of success in this regard, eventually winning the Loh Kroh Stadium Championship and becoming a Chiang Mai provincial champion.
Though he loved Muay Thai and was teaching the “art of eight limbs” at Team Quest Thailand, the allure of MMA was too strong as the sport exploded in popularity around Asia. He appreciated the techniques and sportsmanship he saw on display, and wanted to make the transition.
But again, his family was not initially comfortable with the idea. They felt the injury rate in MMA would be very high and worried about their young son.
“At first, my family did not allow me to do it,” he says. “But when I explained to my family that the referee would stop the fight before any serious injuries could happen, they gave in. They realized it was safer than Muay Thai.”
Mitsatit began training in all aspects of the MMA game in 2014 and needless to say, he had a seamless transition. By June, he had made his professional debut and recorded a first-round TKO. A month later, he fought again, and showed his diversity by winning via guillotine choke in the first round.
From there, he competed in local Thai promotion Full Metal Dojo, where he won his next four fights, three of which he finished by strikes in the first round.
The Smiling Assassin signed with ONE soon thereafter, and made his promotional debut at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS last May. Though he was incredibly nervous and afraid of losing, he dominated Myanmar strawweight Ye Thway Ne, ending the contest via TKO in just two-and-a-half minutes.
On Saturday Night, 11 March, he will return to the cage and face a stiffer test in Catalan (4-2). Like Mitsatit, the 30-year-old Filipino is a striking specialist who has a background in Muay Thai, but is also a national wushu champion in the Philippines.
Catalan is seeking his first win in ONE, having lost his promotional debut to ex-title challenger Joshua Pacio last April at ONE: GLOBAL RIVALS.
This time around, Mitsatit is not nervous, nor is he afraid. To him, it is business as usual. Although this match will be his first in ten months, he hopes to remain more active in 2017, and if possible, secure a title shot.
“I would like to fight two or three times this year and become the strawweight champion hopefully this year,” he states.
Whether that happens for sure or not remains to be seen. For now, “the Smiling Assassin” is focused on the task at hand, and he has all the motivation and support in the world from his now-number one fans.
“I fight for my family,” he says, proudly, “and to make sure their lives are better than ever.”
“MMA is my first sport,” the 29-year-old Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia native enthuses. Ong had long admired the martial arts from afar, but never actually trained until three years ago when he was introduced to ONE athlete AJ “Pyro” Lias Mansor’s gym, Borneo Tribal Squad.
“I have always loved martial arts — what boy doesn’t? I just never tried it when I was younger,” he says.“I only started training martial arts three years ago. I am very active and love the gym, so a friend suggested I try training at Borneo Tribal Squad MMA.
“I love the training, competitions, the team, and family atmosphere,” said Ong. “Coach AJ ‘Pyro’ really pushes us to challenge ourselves. He saw opportunities — first with amateur K1 and Muay Thai, and encouraged me to compete.”
That encouragement and early success at the amateur level soon led Pyro to direct his disciple towards professional MMA competition. The rookie dove right in for his first professional contest last July, where he finished Jesdan dela Pena in the second round via TKO due to strikes.
Although “Ice Man” calls the win satisfying, he says it spurred him to work even harder.
“Any win, just like any loss, makes me want to go straight back to training and learn more,” the young fighter explains. “When you compete, you really learn a lot about yourself, both your strengths and weaknesses. So, I take that back to training every time so I can grow and improve, which also helps the team grow and improve further, too.”
Ong is proud of his young, but already quite successful Borneo Tribal Squad MMA team, which includes training partners such as fellow ONE Championship athletes Ann Osman, Hisyam Samsudin, and Audreylaura Boniface, the latter of whom also makes her promotional debut at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM.
“We are a small but strong and diverse team,” Ong proudly declares. “We push each other to always improve. We are also lucky as Borneo Tribal Squad has some great visiting coaches and fighters.
We get the opportunity to train with people such as BJJ Master Carlson Gracie Jr., Clark Gracie, fellow ONE fighters Adam Kayoom and Mark Striegl, as well as Muay Thai champion Hakebar Hanfi.”
Now, Ong plans to build upon his momentum and the overwhelming positivity surrounding him when he squares off against Sagetdao Petpayathai at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.
Petpayathai will be making his MMA debut, and despite not having any cage experience, he is a combat sports veteran who will have the hometown crowd firmly behind him.
In fact, Petpayathai made a name for himself in Bangkok’s Muay Thai scene, where he became a four-time Lumpinee Stadium Champion, a Rajadamnern Stadium Champion, and a WBC Super Lightweight World Champion, amongst other such accolades. An expert in the striking department, the 30-year-old Thai has spent the past two years rounding out his game at Singapore-based Evolve MMA.
Though Ong holds his rival in high regards, he is not intimidated by Petpayathai’s skills. In fact, he welcomes it.
“I know he is a World Muay Thai World Champion who is training at Evolve, so I have my work cut out for me,” the Malaysian acknowledges. “It will be a challenging fight, but that is why I train — for the challenge!”
Similarly, Ong is not putting additional pressure on himself or his overall MMA career. Ong, who splits his time between training and co-running the family business with his mother in Kota Kinabalu’s LIDO market, is in the sport for the love of it, and growth as a martial artist.
“My goals are more personal,” he explains. “They are about challenging myself, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, being disciplined, always learning, and helping the team.
“I am not chasing fame. I love the journey of growing and developing. I want to train and compete — it’s as simple as that.”