A 6-1 record marks out Melvin Yeoh as Malaysia's most successful mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and the sole loss of his career only came about because of a blatant refereeing error. The owner of the Ultimate MMA Gym in Johor Bahru has quickly and quietly gone about making himself the most sought after fighter in the entire country.
His MMA career began in September 2011 when he took on three opponents in the space of a single day at "Mayhem 2," which was organized by Malaysian Fighting Championship in Kuala Lumpur. He beat two of the top local fighters at his weight that day, but it was the culmination of almost two decades of martial arts experience.
"My hometown is Perlis, which is on the border between Malaysia and Thailand, and I started my martial arts journey by taking up Taekwondo lessons at the age of 13 followed by Muay Thai, but I wasn't serious about it. Between the ages of 13-17 I was a troubled teenager who liked to fight in school and on the streets a lot. My grandfather brought me to a martial arts school to allow me to focus my fights in the ring and I started fighting at the age of 14 but stopped when I was 19 as I needed to further my studies in the university."
The Ultimate MMA camp in Johor Bahru is home to a number of aspiring young mixed martial artists and has hosted a handful of events. It was first founded by Yeoh nine years ago and has continued to grow and expand ever since,
"I was posted to Johor Bahru, Malaysia, as a school educator in 2003. At that time, the existence of Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu jitsu or MMA Gyms there was close to zero. So, at one point, I felt bored and started to gather some teenagers and friends around the area and educated them about the basic of MMA in the backyard."
What started out as a loose group of friend training together in some of the elements of MMA developed into one of the most respected camps in Malayisa,
"By 2006, Ultimate MMA Academy was founded and it expanded and kept growing bigger. In 2010 the sheer size of our group left us no choice but to move to a bigger place and to upgrade the facilities to at the very least, meet the minimum requirements of an MMA academy. Since then our boys from Ultimate MMA have fought countless fights in amateur boxing, judo, grappling, BJJ, Muay Thai, Sanshou and MMA competitions."
Yeoh has fought seven times and has won six with the only loss coming in controversial circumstances. Having already defeated Raymond Tiew (now 4-2) and Sam Chan (now 4-1) he found himself facing Kazbek Shalbassov from Kazakhstan in the final of the 'Mayhem' Lightweight tournament.
Yeoh walks at 145 lbs and could easily cut to bantamweight but seemed to have secured a remarkable achievement when he stopped Shalbassov with a solid knee to the solar plexus. The Kazhak fighter was unable to continue but the referee inexplicably decided to give him time to recover and issue his opponent a warning for the non existent low blow.
It is the only blemish on the Malaysian's perfect record but he understands that, with this being the first large scale MMA event ever attempted in the country, mistakes were inevitable,
"In the cage the referee holds the power to decide and everyone was exhausted. In Mayhem 2 I have to fight three fights inside three hours and I also had to corner three others boys. I fought the two toughest opponents Sam Chan and Raymond Tiew in my division before I advance to the finals but the referee had to present himself for more than 20 fights as well and with MMA in Malaysia still being a growing sport, I don’t blame him for making that mistake."
You can see the video of that fight here and not only was Yeoh robbed of a stoppage win by the referee but he was also stood up almost immediately after securing a takedown and transitioning into mount as he recalls,
"I did some solid knee strike to the chest and my opponent collaped but then the referee came in and immediately he told the referee that I kneed to his groin. The fight restarted in the centre of the cage again so I charge in and took him down with a double leg takedown. The next thing I know is that I was stood up and I was so frustrated that I lost my composure and got stopped straightaway with some solid punches."
Since that setback Yeoh's career has gone from strength to strength and he has demonstrated the diversity of his skillset by registering wins by both TKO and submission, including a highlight reel headkick KO which you can see below:
MFC4 - MELVIN YEOH (Malaysia) vs "BULLKILLER" MOHD ZAKHIR (Malaysia) (via MFChallenge)
Yeoh recently beat three men in a single night to be named South Malaysian Muay Thai champion. The humble schoolteacher's success is all the more remarkable because he only entered his first MMA competition reluctantly with the hope of inspiring some of his students,
"Three of my students wanted to put their MMA skills that they learned from Ultimate MMA to the test in a local competition called Mayhem 2 which was organized by Muayfit. In order to encourage them to fight hard and with heart, I signed up with them. I didn't expect myself to go that far in the competition but all four of us ended up with the first runner up title. After that I felt reignited, it was like the feeling I had in my younger days so I signed up for more fights in local events."
All Yeoh's fights have taken place in comparatively small venues in front of a few hundred fans, although Mayhem, which took place in a busy shopping centre, did attract several thousand fans throughout the course of the day. The spectre of Asia's biggest mixed martial art's promotion, ONE Fighting Championship, is looming large over Malaysian MMA at present because they are putting on a card in the 10,000 capacity Stadium Negara on June 23rd.
With such a strong record Yeoh should be in with a shout of a spot on the card and he says it would be a dream come true,
"ONE FC has really brought Asian MMA to a whole new level especially in the SEA region with their excellent promotion and production, their fight level is way beyond what we've seen before. Fighting in this organization is every Asian fighter's dream, especially fighting in my own country, with all my countrymen cheering and supporting me, how nice would it be!"
Yeoh already holds a win over a ONE FC fighter in Raymond Tiew who he stopped with strikes in only his second fight. No other Malaysian mixed martial artist has as many wins as him and he has more than earned a shot with a major league organization but despite having such a strong record he still believes he has plenty of room for improvement,
"I didn't even realize that my record was better than any other Malaysian until you told me. I just try to get as many fights as I can in small events to gain some experience and slowly make my way up. What I have achieved so far is nothing to be proud of and I'm still not satisfied because have made mistakes in every fight I have had but I will learn from all my mistakes and be a better fighter."
Although Chan and Tiew both have very respectable records not all of Yeoh's opponents have been of the same calibre, although he has been known to be outweighed by as much as 20 lbs. However there is no question that he has come a long way in a short space of time since making his professional debut last September and with ONE FC 'Destiny of Warriors' only two months away he could be in line for the sort of reward his recent efforts so richly deserve.