The stakes were sky-high as Cambodian-American Sovannahry Em made her promotional debut at ONE Championship’s final event of 2018.
On Friday, 7 December, the rising Khmer star kicked off ONE: DESTINY OF CHAMPIONS against mixed martial arts veteran Iryna “Delsa” Kyselova in a highly anticipated 63.5-kilogram showdown.
The 26-year-old knew she had a tough task in front of her. However, she was far from nervous.
She entered the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a big smile on her face, as she was set to face a taller, more accomplished, and much more experienced opponent in front of millions of fans all over the world.
Finished her opponent in 81 seconds
Just seconds after the opening bell rang, Em confidently threw a superman punch, secured a takedown, transitioned to the mount position, and rained down heavy blows on the Europe West Fight Champion until the referee stopped the contest at 1:21 of round one.
“I felt very relaxed,” the Cambodian-American said after the victory.
“We put so much work into this camp, and I was so prepared that there was no anxiety — just excitement. I was just having fun.”
The win moved her professional record to a spotless 3-0, and at 81 seconds, it is the longest bout of her career thus far.
Representing Cambodia, the USA-based Em certainly made the most of her debut. Unlike many promotional newcomers, she was unfazed by the bright lights and the media attention.
“It was a great learning experience. There are a couple of things that I could’ve executed a little better, but that’s just part of the learning experience. But overall, I feel it was perfect,” she said.
“I’m pretty shy, and I don’t crave too much attention, but being out there in the lights and hearing the crowd, it made me feel very special.”
Despite getting the win quickly, both Em and her coach Justen Hamilton praised her Ukrainian adversary.
“We certainly took Iryna very seriously as an opponent. We knew [she was] quite experienced, very successful in competition, and clearly very tough,” Hamilton said.
“Although I did predict an early finish, that certainly wasn’t any disrespect to Iryna. I just knew that we were going to be too prepared.
“To see Sovannahry perform as well as she did, it wasn’t at all a surprise to me, but it was still a bit surreal to see it all unfold so clearly the way that we had anticipated it. It was truly wonderful.”
Overwhelmed by the support from Cambodia
The pair has already returned to their home base in Los Angeles, California, and even days removed from her victory, she is still touched by the response from all the fans — especially her Cambodian supporters.
“I appreciate the way everyone is receiving me,” she confessed.
“I did not expect this at my first fight, being out here in Malaysia. I thought I would just come here and fight, but I did not expect the response I’ve been getting from fans in Cambodia.
“I’m really thankful for all the love and the support. I was excited, but hearing everyone else’s excitement is something special, so thank you.”
Em finished the year in grand fashion, and she plans to build on her momentum in 2019.
Check out the whole post-fight interview here: