This MMA fighter is one tough cookie

South Korean mixed martial arts fighter Song Ka Yeon teaches reporter Gwendolyn Ng some self-defence moves.
Song Ka Yeon has joined the Singapore-based Evolve Fight Team and trains at the Evolve Mixed Martial Art gym in China Street five to six days a week.
Song Ka Yeon has joined the Singapore-based Evolve Fight Team and trains at the Evolve Mixed Martial Art gym in China Street five to six days a week.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

South Korean mixed martial arts fighter Song Ka Yeon, who faced controversies at home, relocates to Singapore to further her career

South Korean mixed martial arts fighter Song Ka Yeon, who turned heads for her good looks when she appeared in popular variety shows on television, has relocated to Singapore to further her athletic career.

She is now signed to the Singapore-based Evolve Fight Team.

"I am surprised that people recognise me. They will sometimes stop me and ask for selfies," says Song, 22.

Her attractiveness probably contributed to the following she has gained since she starred in housemate reality show Roommate (2014) and was a guest on an episode of the game show Running Man.

At that time, she was part of the Korean MMA organisation Road FC, which she joined in 2013. She won her debut match a year later.

Evolve was on the lookout for talent and invited Song to Singapore for a two-week trial in April. She made the cut and is now teammates with the likes of atomweight world champion Angela Lee. She is also an instructor at the gym.

"Evolve has produced a lot of champions. I also like how Singapore is unique, there are a lot of cultures. At the gym, I train with people from Brazil, the United Kingdom, America, Thailand," she tells The Straits Times, speaking in halting English, a language she picked up over the past two years while training in the United States.

She is working on improving her skills and has yet to decide what competitions to take part in.

The Evolve Mixed Martial Art gym in China Street, where this interview was held, is her second home - she spends close to 12 hours here each day, five to six days a week.

She has been posting occasional photos or videos of herself training at the gym on her Instagram account (@sky_isthelimit_song), which has more than 51,000 followers.

On the account, she can also be seen lounging by a pool and posing with a new grey hairdo at a salon.

Since relocating here, the photogenic fighter has mostly been going on gastronomic adventures, trying local delights at hawker centres.

"I usually eat salad from Mondays to Fridays. On my cheat days, on weekends, I like to eat chicken rice and fishball noodles," says Song, who is single.

If she had time to date, she says, she is "open to dating Singapore men". "I do not care if he is tough or is a fighter. If he is handsome, that is very good. What is important is that he understands me - a fighter's life is difficult."

These are happier days for Song, who was embroiled in a dispute with her former company, Road FC, The Korea Times reported in February. She alleged that the mixed martial arts promoter forced her to pose for "semi-nude photos" and intruded into her private life.

As a result of the controversy, the article quoted her as saying, it was difficult for her to find a training gym in South Korea. She later left for the US.

Three years ago, she was also the target of malicious online comments casting aspersions on her credibility as a professional fighter. One netizen went as far as to post death threats.

Though she would rather not discuss these issues, she seems at peace with herself now.

Song, who is 1.59m tall and weighs 52kg, credits her resilience to her years of training in various styles of martial arts. She has earned black belts in judo, taekwondo and hapkido.

Her tough-cookie character could also have been shaped by her chequered growing-up years.

At age 16, she was left to fend for herself after her father died. An only child, she declines to talk about her mother, saying only that she grew up with her father on Jeju Island.

While attending Busan Guard High School, which has been called "a martial arts school for students seeking security and bodyguard jobs", she worked part-time jobs, waiting tables and washing dishes.

Her father had wanted her to follow in the footsteps of great South Korea-born women golfers, such as Pak Se Ri and Lydia Ko, but she was more interested in a more robust sport.

She says: "My father took me to a golf school. But I was more interested in the boxing that was going on next door."

• Catch Song Ka Yeon on Running Man and Roommate on entertainment platform Viu.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2017, with the headline 'This MMA fighter is one tough cookie'. Print Edition | Subscribe