Kiwi atomweight Nyrene Crowley realizes just how important it is to stay ready and primed for action at all times.

The Bali-based New Zealander has been plying her trade in ONE Warrior Series, where her dogged determination to earn a full-time contract with the Asian heavyweights has never wavered. Because, of course, you never know when opportunity may come knocking.

And that opportunity came pounding the front door last month, when Vietnamese star Bi Nguyen‘s hyper-extended elbow forced her to withdraw from her bout against Japan’s Itsuki Hirata at ONE: ‘Warriors’ Code’ in Jakarta on Friday.

When the S.O.S. call came through from Singapore for Crowley to step in as her replacement, there was never a doubt what the response was going to be.

“I was out at dinner with my partner,” Crowley recalled. “He sat across from me and he said, ‘So…’ Immediately in my head I thought, ‘This could be good or bad,’ and I really, honestly did not expect that to come out of his mouth.

“This opportunity really came from left-field and I was honestly in shock. Both my coach and partner were like, ‘Do you want this?’ and I didn’t even think about it. I just said, ‘Yes, I want it!’

“Since I left New Zealand, this was what I was working towards, so the second they told me, straight away my brain clicked into preparation – thinking about what I needed to do.”

No rest

With no bouts on the horizon, it was a moment where Crowley’s daily commitment to improvement paid off in spades.

She last fought at the end of 2019 on at ONE Warrior Series 9 where she lost to Michele Ferreira in highly dubious circumstances. The referee thought he’d seen Crowley tapping to a triangle submission, leaving the Kiwi distraught. Replays confirmed she had reason to be.

But Crowley isn’t the sort to dwell on misfortune, and she used training as her own special brand of therapy.

“I was straight back in the gym after that fight in December. I’ve been getting completely ready to go, and it paid off.”

The 30-year-old is a relentlessly positive being, and much of that comes from her development – both personally and as an athlete – since she discovered martial arts.

Surrounded by sport

As many New Zealanders do, Crowley grew up surrounded by sports. She excelled in everything from rugby to weightlifting, netball to athletics.

During some boot camp fitness sessions, Crowley met some fighters who brought her along to their gym. Just a matter of months later, she had her first fight, saw her hand raised, and she was instantly hooked.

All other athletic pursuits were pushed to the side, as Crowley dove headfirst into her new passion.

“I dropped all the other sports I was playing at the time, which other people were not too happy about, but that is kind of how I got into it,” Crowley confessed. “Straight after that first fight, that was it. This is what I wanted to be doing from now on.

“Martial arts was the first, and only, thing that exposes you for your vulnerabilities, and what you really need to address within yourself to become a better person, a better fighter – everything.”

Crowley’s striking-based game has since gone from strength to strength, first under the tutelage of Auckland MMA, and more recently under the likes of Mike Ikilei and Don Carlo Clauss at Bali MMA.

The ‘Neutron’ Bomb’ knows she’ll need to have every bit of that explosive energy if she’s to overcome her highly vaunted Japanese opponent.

Undefeated opponent

The 20-year-old phenom Hirata is a flawless 2-0 in her professional career, all of those wins finished by way of submission.

But Crowley isn’t the kind to shy away from the pressure of the spotlight, and she’s cautiously confident she has the tools to derail Hirata’s hype train. She knows a win would catapult her own stocks and given the short notice, it’s almost impossible to lose.

“I know, of course, she is going to be tough – all girl fighters are tough – but I completely, 100% trust my coaches. They are taking control and leading the direction, so everything they tell me to do, I do.

“Obviously I started with Muay Thai so it’s going to be classic stand-up versus grappler match but we’ll see how it goes. I’m incredibly excited. It’s going to be a really good challenge for me, and win or lose, this is going to make me a better martial artist.

“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take on one of the top prospects coming out of Japan, and I am super-focused and determined to implement the game plan that we’re working on.”

The first Kiwi female fighter to crack the ONE Championship ranks, Crowley doesn’t take that responsibility. This is the next step towards a goal she set for herself some time ago, and she’s couldn’t be more enthused.

“My goal when I left New Zealand was to be a world title holder within two years, so I am really working towards that,” she says. “I would really love to hold a title in ONE Championship.”