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Sanjay Nair
Friday, Nov 7, 2014

Sports

Long wait for pro fight ends

The Straits Times | Sanjay Nair | Friday, Nov 7, 2014

Kirstie Gannaway has fought only once - seven years ago - and will appear on the One FC card at the Indoor Stadium on Friday. The 23-year-old follows in the footsteps of fellow Singaporean female MMA fighters Nicole Chua, Sherilyn Lim and May Ooi.

Kirstie Gannaway is a fight promoter's dream. She looks like a model, speaks like a public relations consultant and punches like an aspiring boxer.

But the Singaporean is also, in her own words, a "walking contradiction".

Pink is her favourite colour, she loves fluffy animals and claims to have watched every episode of the Powerpuff Girls cartoon series.

As soon as she enters a mixed martial arts (MMA) ring, though, she sees red - and packs some power of her own with her formidable right hook.

The 23-year-old makes her One Fighting Championship debut against Malaysian Adek Omar in an atomweight (48kg) fight at the Indoor Stadium on Friday, with coaches at the renowned Evolve Gym purring over her potential.

"Kirstie is very athletic, got great hands, learns fast and, most importantly, she never complains and is always early for training," said Evolve head coach Heath Sims, who has also mentored MMA icons Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen.

"The sky is the limit as to what this girl can achieve in MMA."

Born to an Australian father and Singaporean mother, Gannaway grew up here, studying in international schools before completing her studies at Sydney's CATC Design School.

To the shock of friends and family, she quit her job as a graphic artist in March, joining Evolve's operations staff and began training full-time - twice a day, two hours at a time.

"There were days where it was just horrible in my last job, a lot of overtime - I wanted to be my own boss," she recalled.

"I don't care what other people say, I love every single minute of being an MMA professional."

She first donned boxing gloves at age 15, learning from older brother Nick, an amateur fighter then.

Although she has trained for eight years in boxing, five years in Muay Thai and two years in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), she has fought just once in the ring - seven years ago.

Gannaway has taken to working out with bigger and stronger men such as boyfriend Herbert Burns, a One FC featherweight contender and Evolve instructor.

The self-confessed tomboy has been forced to embrace her feminine side since she began dating the Brazilian three years ago.

"When I first met Kirstie, her shorts were longer than mine," Burns, a BJJ world champion, said with a laugh. "Now she's more like a girl, but she could choke out a few guys too."

Friday's One FC card is headlined by a middleweight title fight between Brazilian hard-hitter Leandro Ataides and Kazakhstan's Igor Svirid.

Gannaway has dropped 4kg to make weight for her own bout, ignoring her sweet tooth as she gives up her favourite cakes and cookies in favour of healthy salads, avocado and grilled chicken.

"I don't go out and party or do anything crazy - fun for me was eating, so the fact that I can't do that is really bugging me," she said wryly.

It is a necessary sacrifice as she prepares to face fellow One FC debutante Omar, who is said to have a decent stand-up game.

Gannaway could just as easily slip into the glamorous role of a ring girl, but she is right where she wants to be.

She said: "I don't think about getting scars on my face. I just want to fight."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 5, 2014.
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