I’ve recently acquired a new friend and training partner in Sunny, a Chinese woman living in Singapore. We’d been meaning to hang out outside the gym for a while, but never quite made it happen. That was until she mentioned that she wanted to visit a ramen restaurant in the city, which is run by a friend of hers. “You might know her, she’s a Japanese fighter”, she said.
Intrigued, I asked who it was. “Little Tiger”, she said. Of course I knew who she was! I’d been following her career for a long time, mainly thanks to Sylvie von Duulgas-Ittu’s coverage of her. I had no idea that as well as fighting, she also had a career in restaurant management. In fact, I didn’t even realise that she was living in Bangkok! I jumped at the chance to go.
Little Tiger (Ayaka Miyauchi) has had around fifty fights. During her career, she’s won the WBC atomweight world title, WMC and WPMF pinweight world titles, and the WMPF mini flyweight world title. That’s an impressive record for anyone, let alone someone who started Muay Thai at 27 years old. You can learn more about her in the old news article below.
This article was written before she moved to Bangkok and began working at Menya Takeichi as a manager in January 2017. I was excited to meet her there and find out more about her story.
When I did, the main thing that struck was how sweet and humble she was. She gave us a warm welcome, showing us to our table but remaining too polite to sit down with us. After exchanging pleasantries, she disappeared into the kitchen to oversee the preparation of our food. Half-way through our meal, she came back with a plate of complementary fried chicken as an extra treat.
After we’d finished eating, we’re able to convince her to take a seat and chat for a while. We talked in a mixture of Thai and English, as she’s more comfortable speaking Thai. When I ask if she’s fluent, she reluctantly says “maybe”, but from listening to the way she interacts with her staff, it’s clear that she has a very strong grasp on the language. She can read and write Thai, too.
Menya Tekeichi is a hugely popular restaurant chain in Japan and Singapore. The branch Little Tiger manages is the first in Thailand, and the company provides her with a visa so that she can remain in Thailand long-term. They’re clearly proud of her, paying tribute to her with a display in the front window. A pair of her shorts is hanging up, alongside photos of her with belts and trophies. It makes sense that she works in the restaurant business — her father is a famous sushi chef in Japan.
Intrigued about the status of Tiger’s fight career, I asked her if she had any fights coming up. She excitedly told me that did, but in Japan, not Thailand. She was preparing to fly back to make a TV show appearance to promote it at the time. She would like to fight in Thailand, but says that her manager doesn’t allow her. “In Japan, Muay Thai is business. In Thailand, it’s not business”, she explained. If she could get by simply by fighting here, she would. However, that’s not the case. That’s where the restaurant comes in. It provides her with a stable income while allowing her to stay in Thailand and keep doing the sport she loves. I used English teaching to do the same.
We go on to talk a little about different fighting styles in Japan. I ask what she thinks about shootboxing, and she says she doesn’t understand it. A smile spreads across her face and she nods in agreement when I say “neither do I!”
She tells me that most of the shootboxing instructors in Japan are Thai, but the idea of training with them doesn’t appeal to her. “Muay Thai is my style”, she says, showing little to no interest in other types of fighting. I completely agree, and have lost count of how many times I’ve been asked when I’ll transition to MMA. I won’t. Muay Thai is my style, too.
At home, Tiger fights out of Tokyo’s Weerasakrek Fairtex Gym. In Bangkok, she usually trains at Luktupfah gym. When we invited her to train with us at Attachai Muay Thai, she was happy to oblige. I wasn’t sure if she really meant it or if she was just being polite, but the very next afternoon, she appeared during our training session.
I made sure I was able to spar and clinch with her while she was there. She was just as kind as she had been the night before, and went very easy on me. She’s a great training partner! Here’s a short video of our sparring.
Little Tiger posted this to her Instagram after we met. Follow her there to keep up with her training and fights.
Visit Menya Takeichi
Menya Takeichi is located on the 2nd floor of K Village, a community mall on Sukhumvit 26. You can get there by taking the BTS to Phrom Phong station, followed by a taxi or a motorbike. Check it out, not only to meet Little Tiger in person, but to eat some awesome Japanese food, too!
Update, 2022: Little Tiger is no longer working at Menya Takeichi. Instead, she’s now working as a sushi chef in another Bangkok restaurant when she’s not training. Since this interview, we’ve trained together several times, and become regular sparring partners as well as friends.