Kirstie Gannaway is set to become the third female Singaporean fighter to sign with ONE FC and there are such high hopes for the 23 year old, who has a background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), boxing and Wushu, that she has also been offered a full time position on the Evolve MMA Fight Team.
Women's MMA has taken off in the last year as the UFC has finally allowed female fighters to compete, but ONE FC has been open to athletes of all genders for even longer, with Nicole Chua competing inside the cage at the Singapore Indoor Stadium as far back as March of 2012.
Developing a deep roster of female fighters has been a gradual process for ONE FC, but the popularity which Fil-Am former boxing world champion Ana Julaton has enjoyed since signing for the promotion earlier this year, is likely to have inspired Asia's biggest MMA promotion to find more women capable of competing inside its cage.
There are already high expectations for Gannaway, who will be training on a full-time basis at Evolve MMA and she says that her interest in martial arts began eight years ago.
"I started boxing when I was 15. My older brother used to train and compete in boxing, Muay Thai and Wushu. He asked me to go watch him compete one day and found his performance so spectacular that I decided to start training myself. The week after, he brought me to the gym with him and taught me everything he knew," she recalls.
One aspect of her story which the media has already jumped upon is Gannaway's relationship with top ONE FC featherweight contender Herbert Burns. He is set to face Hiroshige Tanaka next month in what may well turn out to be a title eliminator, but his other half says she has known the BJJ black belt since well before he even made his MMA debut.
"Herbert was visiting Singapore early on in 2011. He was staying with a family friend, which is how I ended up being introduced to him. He asked me to try training BJJ with him, just to see how it was, because I had never trained any thing other than boxing and Muay Thai before that. He taught me some things on the ground, and pretty much gave me a couple BJJ and MMA classes and I just loved it straight from the start. We ended up hanging out all the time after that and then next thing we knew, we were dating!"
Burns' career didn't really take off until after he joined Evolve MMA last year. At the time he was 1-0 with a quickfire submission win over an overmatched opponent in Brazil, but he has since signed with ONE FC and submitted the previously undefeated Edward Kelly and claimed a decision win over PXC lightweight champion Harris Sarmiento.
The Brazilian is now 3-0 and will be taking another step up when he takes on the 10-1 Tanaka in Dubai and Gannaway says she became an Evolve MMA student at the same time that her boyfriend accepted a full time job at the Singapore based academy.
"I joined late last year at the same time that Herbert became a part of Evolve. I am really familiar with the environment and the people there and settled well. There are a lot of kind hearted and hard working people that are students at Evolve. On top of that, the most amazing world class instructors that any martial arts enthusiast could dream of. That made it really easy to settle."
The Evolve MMA Fight Team is full time and acceptance is by invitation only, meaning that it is rare for someone to make the transition from student to fighter. Gannaway says that she decided to spend a few months focusing exclusively on martial arts and the decision paid dividends.
"I have been training with Evolve since late last year but I was working full time until a couple months ago, which was when I decided to give some time to myself and figure out a game plan for my whole life, really. I have always loved training martial arts, but there have been times when it was hard and at moments not possible to juggle work or studying with training. I decided to use my free time the best I could by training as much as I could and whenever I wanted and just a bit over a month ago I was presented with an opportunity to try out for the fight team and just decided to go for it."
Gannaway has been training alongside the likes of Eddie Ng, Leandro Issa and Leandro Ataides and says she is already enjoying the camaraderie that comes with being a member of the Evolve MMA Fight Team.
"The guys on the Evolve Fight Team are so tough, technical and focused but as well as that, they all have such a strong team spirit among them. They are always looking out for each other, motivating each other and are constantly looking for new ways to help each others progress. To be a part of that feels amazing, it is so motivating."
There is no word yet on when Gannaway will be making her ONE FC debut or which division she will be competing in, but she is guaranteed to garner plenty of support in Singapore where interest in MMA is high, but local talent is a little low on the ground.
"I would love to debut soon. What is more important though is that I am ready, mentally and physically. I want to be at my best when I get into the cage so right now my focus is on developing my skill set and the training at Evolve is the highest quality training available in in Asia. Evolve is the number one gym and Fight Team in Asia and the instructors are top of the line, the best of the best."
Being surrounded by so many men means Gannaway is often the odd one out at the twice daily training sessions, but she says that while this is a question the media keeps coming back to, it is something that she personally is never made to feel conscious of.
"The members of the Evolve Fight Team are so respectful of each other and of everyone that is around them. They are sincere and honest with each other and have done everything to make me feel comfortable there. The instructors and team members are consistently looking out for each other on the team, always teaching each other new way to improve and how to better themselves both on and off the mats and I have never felt that I am treated any differently from any of the other fighters."
Gannaway has yet to decide whether she will be competing at strawweight or atomweight but having accepted a position on the Evolve MMA Fight Team, she is training every day with the team of BJJ black belts and Muay Thai world champions and looks to be a good bet to be Singapore's first ever female MMA champion.