Tiffany “Timebomb” van Soest is an american muay thai fighter, training and living in Bali. She’s a four time muay thai world champion, and is widely recognised as the best female muay thai fighter in the world. I happen to train with Tiffany at Bali MMA, so I pitched to I Magazine Bali to do an interview with her about being the best in the world!
I shot these photos and interviewed Tiffany in December 2015. Here is the interview in its entirety.
When Tiffany “Time Bomb” van Soest (26) turned 18, one of the first things she did was to sign the release form to allow her to compete in a Muay Thai fight. Despite training Shörin-ryü karate since the aged of 8, her parents did not want her to fight. She says she just wanted to try it out, to see how it felt, only that one time. Five years later, she lifted the WBC (World Boxing Council) title belt over her head as the new Muay Thai champion of the world. She is currently the Lion Fight Muay Thai World Champion, and she is now calling Bali her home.
Van Soest’s first fight was at a so-called smoker, an unsanctioned fight event, in Los Angeles. “The cops showed up because fights aren’t allowed. So they rolled down the doors and locked them with everyone inside… The cops went away, and the fights went on. I used my Karate background a lot and won my fight by unanimous decision,” she recalls.
Van Soest says that during a fight, she doesn’t feel pain. And if she does, it doesn’t last for long. To prepare for these extreme situations, Van Soest does a lot of mental training. “I do a lot of visualization to get myself into these moments,” she says. “If you practice seeing yourself walking into the ring, sealing the ring, hearing the announcer announce your name, you have seen it so many times that you are not affected by it when it’s actually happening.”
Not getting emotional is an important aspect to performing at an optimal level. “ In the beginning of my career, at times I’d get hit, and I’d get emotional or offended or get mad, and then kinda fight back recklessly. I’d have to be able to think consciously about what [I’m] doing, instead of just thinking that I’m going to throw something as hard as you can out of anger or out of frustration,” she says.
What she does during a fight is a combination of conscious thinking and instinctively executing technique. “I spend time practicing each individual movement and technique so that each technique is executed right, but as far as the situations that I execute these techniques in, some of them are planned, but some of them happen absolutely naturally, out of nowhere,” says van Soest. And when training is combined with instinct, she says, “It’s like art, it’s creation.”
Compared to her first fights, she has become more comfortable with the fighting situation, and has transformed the nerves and fear into her advantage. “I am so relaxed and comfortable that I am able to relax my thoughts during a fight and make observations. Before, I would come out of a fight and not remember a thing that happened. Now, I can remember certain things from the fight,” says van Soest.
Fighting at the highest level, and beating the best in the world, takes a tremendous amount of hard work. Everything van Soest does from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. is related to fighting, whether it’s running, stretching, physiotherapy or training. It’s a full-time job even on the days she doesn’t feel like doing anything. “If I don’t, I’m going to regret it, and have self-guilt for a full day. I’ll have a bad feeling the whole day. If I go do something at least, even if it’s just a stretch, at least I pushed through not wanting to do anything. I beat myself, I bettered myself,” she says.
As the current holder of the Lion Fight belt, van Soest is widely seen as the best fighter in the world, a concept she is humbled by. “It’s weird to think of[…] It’s so crazy to be, on the entire planet, one of the best. It’s mind- blowing,”
Despite already achieving what most athletes can only dream of, van Soest is pushing forward. She says her motivation is to continue being the best. Now that she’s the champion, everyone’s got their eyes on her, everyone wants what she has, and she’ll do everything in her power to make sure they won’t take it from her.