Melvin Yeoh is a familiar figure on the Malaysian mixed martial arts (MMA) scene due to his work as the promoter of the longest running promotion in the country, Ultimate Beatdown, and the owner and head coach of the Ultimate MMA Academy.
He is also a full-time school teacher and father of two, but the 32 year old will have a chance to make some history as a fighter by becoming the first ever Malaysian national champion when he takes on A.J. Mansour in the final of the 145-pound tournament at ONE FC: "Warrior Spirit."
Winning the title would not just be a huge achievement for Yeoh personally, it would also give a boost all the people he has helped as a teacher, trainer and volunteer social worker.
"It means a lot not just for me but for people who trust me and keep supporting me all the way to here. I need to set a good example for them in order to inspire them and show that if you have hard work, dedication and passion, believe in yourself and are willing to work for something you can achieve your goal."
Yeoh will have plenty of support from the community in Johor Bahru, the Southern Malaysian town which sits on the border with Singapore, but he has to somehow find a way to fit his training into a grueling schedule of commitments.
"It’s is very hard for me to multitasking so many jobs at same time. It requires very good management of my timetable, sacrifice, dedication. I have to always stay sharp. Basically during weekdays I work from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m."
He was originally set to face Jian Kai Chee, who beat Mansour in the semifinals after a razor-thin decision verdict which caused a lot of controversy, but he can no longer make 145 pounds and has dropped out of the tournament.
Given how close the semifinal match-up was, with many considering Mansour to have done enough to win, ONE FC officials had no hesitation in reinstating him in the tournament which came as a complete shock to Yeoh.
"I was surprised because I had already my mind set on training to fight against Kai for long time. I watched Kai vs A.J. before my fight in the locker room and honestly with the decision it was hard to tell who won, both of them had their moments in the fight and it was hard for the judges to make the call."
Mansour’s record of 1-3 might not be the most inspiring, but Yeoh is not underestimating an opponent who will be competing inside the ONE FC cage for the third time.
"A.J. is very, very powerful, a freak of nature. I think he is one the strongest in 145 division. He is more of a wrestler, but don’t forget he has a Muay Thai background. I like to stand and be aggressive but I want to test my wrestling abilities with a big guy like A.J. too, It’s a good opportunity to test myself against a bigger and stronger guy."
ONE FC intends to introduce national titles in countries all across Asia and the belt on offer at the Stadium Putra on Nov. 15 will be the first to be handed out. Yeoh could easily compete in the bantamweight division but says the opportunity to become a Malaysian champion was too good to turn down.
"I am comfortable to fight at 145 pounds even though it is my natural walking weight so I can eat ice cream, pizza, anything I want. In the future I would like to test myself at 135 pounds but it all depends on ONE FC’s decision."
Yeoh is a pioneer who launched the first every MMA gym and promotion in Malaysia. He has been involved in the sport since its inception on the local scene and says he is amazed by how rapidly it has taken off in the last year.
"MMA in Malaysia is growing dramatically thanks to ONE FC and Tune Talk and our minister of youth Khairy Jamaluddin who is helping to grow the sports to another level."
ONE FC: "Warrior Spirit" will be the promotion's third outing in Malaysia and the second in the 16,000 capacity Stadium Putra. The main event sees Adam Kayoom compete to become the country's first ever international MMA champion when he takes on Nobutatsu Suzuki and Yeoh says he will be cheering for his compatriot.
"As a friend and fan of Professor Adam Kayoom, of course I hope he wins the title and brings back glory to Malaysia, I will definitely be there to watch his fight if I am not badly injured after my fight."
Yeoh's got a little way to go before he can start thinking about a shot at the main ONE FC 145-pound title, which is currently the property of Koji Oishi, but a win on Nov. 15 will earn him the right to call himself the best featherweight in Malaysia.