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Shannon Wiratchai and Rika Ishige: Thailand’s martial arts power couple

Shannon Wiratchai chats about how he and Rika Ishige became a couple

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When ONE Championship returns to Bangkok, Thailand on Saturday, 24 March, the card will feature a martial arts couple whose careers inside the cage has captured the imagination of Thailand’s martial arts fans.

ONE lightweight Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai and ONE atomweight Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige are huge stars in their homeland, and the pair will compete in back-to-back bouts at ONE: IRON WILL on Saturday, 24 March in Bangkok, Thailand.

They are known for being two of Thailand’s top martial arts stars, but also for being a couple, with martial arts helping them develop a strong bond as their careers inside the cage have mirrored their relationship outside it.

Speaking to ONE Championship, Wiratchai remembers his less-than-smooth approach when he first attempted to get noticed by Ishige, who he first saw when she was working as an emcee at a local aikido event. His first gambit: a Facebook friend request.

“I knew some people at the aikido school there, so I just looked for her on their friends list, and added her. No conversation or anything, just an add,” he laughed.

“I was not sure how to meet her again. I am not very good at flirting with women. We had no contact except for a chat on a local martial arts group a couple of years later.”

Wiratchai didn’t exactly get the response he’d hoped for. Ishige blocked him. But the pair would eventually meet through different circumstances.

Ishige arrived at Wiratchai’s judo gym, which raised eyebrows. Most gyms were almost exclusively populated by men, but here was a young female martial artist looking to get better training to improve. Wiratchai didn’t recognise her at first.

“She was new to judo training, and she got thrown around a little and got tired, so I did not really recognise her,” he said.

“But my friend said she wanted to train for martial arts [competition]. I had just started my new university team, and I did not want to focus on teaching anyone else, so I said maybe it was not for her, and carried on sparring.”

But when Wiratchai saw other people recommending other gyms to Ishige, his personal pride kicked in, and he reached out and offered her the opportunity to train with him at his gym.

“I thought if I could bring her here, it would be better than her going to other groups,” he explained.

“So I just sent her a message saying to come and train the following Monday, and she said okay.”

Wiratchai then followed up by inviting her to kendo training the Saturday before their scheduled session, and Ishige again accepted. He jokes it was their “first date”.

“She showed heart the first day,” he recalled.

“She was tough, and loved martial arts.”

The pair’s relationship started as a platonic one, but it wasn’t until the pair attended a mutual friend’s party that things changed, though Wiratchai jokingly said the story could get him into trouble.

“There was a game changer, actually,” he laughed.

“But Rika might be mad if I tell it!”

In short, Ishige enjoyed a few cocktails at the party and ended up somewhat worse for wear, so Wiratchai made sure he looked after her.

“We called her the food blender,” Wiratchai laughed.

“The whole time the party was on, I stayed with her, holding her hair, and looking after her. I dropped her home when I knew she was okay, and that was our second date!”

Their relationship developed from there, as the pair trained together and spent time together off the mats as their relationship went from strength to strength.

“Then, one day, she said she loved me, and I was like ‘Yes!” Wiratchai remembered.

“Rika came into my life, and she was not like any other girlfriend I had. She loves to work out and dedicate her life to martial arts. Not just for fun, but seriously. She works hard.

“One day, I asked her, ‘What’s your plan?’ She said if she can work in martial arts, then that is going to be the best thing. So I said to her, ‘Quit your job, and let’s do this.’ So she did, and went full-time with her training. I think that is courage.”

Ishige dedicated herself fully to a career in martial arts, quitting her day job and starting from scratch, training tirelessly, learning the various disciplines and living the martial arts lifestyle to the full. Now she’s a bona-fide star in ONE Championship and, since her debut in March 2017, has become one of the most popular, recognisable female stars in the organisation.

Wiratchai also gained star status as he’s risen through the ranks to become one of the most exciting talents in the ONE lightweight division.

With both of them experiencing success under the ONE banner training together and even competing on the same events together, their dreams remain intertwined as they continue their martial arts journey together.

“We do not know what will happen in the future, but for a few years we need to keep focused on competing,” Wiratchai explained.

“Long term, as we get older, we will compete less, and focus more on teaching and more on making the new generation of martial artists before we get to retire.”

The pair will both step into the ONE Championship cage at ONE: IRON WILL on Saturday, 24 March, with Wiratchai facing Rahul “The Kerala Krusher” Raju and Ishige taking on Angelie “D Explorer” Sabanal.

Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 19 years’ experience in the UK national media. News Editor: ONE Championship. UFC/MMA Reporter: BBC Three. International MMA Reporter: The Fight Nation. Contributor: MMAjunkie.

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