One of the last elements movie-goers would ever see in a romantic movie is martial arts. Usually, that is reserved for action films. But in the case of ONE Championship’s Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige, her story includes an added passion for combat sports.
As the 28-year-old prepares for her second promotional appearance at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES on Friday, 26 May, she will not be alone. In the Thai’s corner will be a man who is not only her coach, but her romantic partner in life.
However, before Ishige found love in another person, she found it in martial arts. The Thai was first introduced to judo through her father. While that was her initial foray into the world of combat sports, she chose a different path from the paternal head of the household.
“I started martial arts when I was 13 or 14,” she reveals. “At the time, I chose karate because it is not a normal activity. It was to challenge myself. I did karate and aikido together.”
Unfortunately, Ishige’s martial arts aspirations would have to take a back seat. In her home, school came first. The rigors of education took precedence over those of the dojo.
Though her body was away from the gym, her mind never left the mats. Mixed martial arts was growing in popularity, and offerings on television and the internet kept Ishige’s attention. “Tinydoll” also found herself captivated by the flash and flair of professional wrestling.
After getting a handle on her studies, Ishige found time to resume training. This time, however, karate and aikido were not enough to hold her attention. She longed for something more, and it would turn out to be more than she could have ever imagined.
A chance encounter while Ishige served as an emcee at an aikido event changed her life forever. There, she caught the attention of ONE Championship lightweight standout and Thai mixed martial arts pioneer Shannon Wiratchai.
Wiratchai’s interest in Ishige was initially rejected. “Tinydoll” was, however, interested in training with him. Following Wiratchai’s continued instruction, the pair became fast friends, and eventually, a couple. Mutual interests and time spent at the gym brought the two together.
Now, with a friend, companion, and coach in tow, the Thai found herself up against another hurdle: her parents.
Martial arts was a mainstay in the Thai’s household growing up, but her mother and father greeted their daughter’s mixed martial arts pursuits with concern and skepticism. However, as one of Thailand’s first professional female mixed martial artists, Ishige found she had the unique privilege of educating her family and her country about the sport.
"Most people do not understand mixed martial arts. They think it has no rules, and barbaric,” she explains. “I want to show them it is not like that. It is a real sport, and me, I am a small girl, but I can fight in a world class organization. It is not brutal. It is about technique.”
At ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES on Friday Night, 26 May, that education continues when “Tinydoll” meets Nita Dea in an atomweight showdown at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
“I want to keep fighting and showcasing mixed martial arts in Thailand,” Ishige says. “In the long term, I can be a champion!”