Every Saturday, rain or shine, Silas Yeak packs up pounds of padding and heads to training. Most days he spends training jiu jitsu technique — a way to get back to the basics before squaring up with heavy-hitting opponents. He spars with his teammates, some amateur and learning, like him, and others who have been fighting for years and even competed professionally.
After years of training in the U.S. and in Singapore, Yeak’s reputation is growing in the Pacific Northwest and at the University of Portland as an MMA fighter. But he also balances his identity as a junior operations and technology management major at UP.
“It's hard to separate it — it's part of his identity,” junior Kilin Ung, friend and former roommate of Yeak’s, said. “He's been doing it for a really long time. I mean, everybody who knows Silas knows he is ‘the fighter.’”
Yeak describes his passion as the synergy of all martial arts. Mixed martial arts (MMA) combines techniques from various sparring sports and martial arts.
“I've always loved fighting and it's just a way to express myself in terms of combat,” Yeak said. “Just being able to battle with someone was exciting for me.”
His parents were always cautious of his interest in fighting. To his mother’s dismay, he started training in Muay Thai, a type of Thai boxing, at age 17 as a high school student in Singapore. Yeak grew up in Singapore and moved to the U.S. to go to the University of Portland.
Since his parents were against his fighting, he participated secretly in wrestling and Jiu Jitsu competitions. He said he would sneak around as if he had a “secret girlfriend.”
His gym in Singapore sent people to a competition and Yeak opted to compete secretly. After winning gold medals in his competitions, he posted them online only to have his parents find out through a mutual friend.
“They were just curious and my dad started to watch fights with me and understand a bit about MMA,” Yeak said. “Sometimes it would be good, but sometimes he would see accidents happen and would worry about my safety.”
Now, he openly competes in the Portland area and represents his gym, Gracie Barra Portland. His fighting shorts, which bear the emblem of his gym, read “Your Friend,” a bit of an inside joke for Yeak. In one of his opening fights in the US, his walk-out song was “Why Can’t We Be Friends” and from then on, it stuck with him.
With gym comradery also comes gym politics, and Yeak takes precautions to not leak information to spies sent by other gyms to learn opponents techniques and game plans.
“Fighting is a matter of life and death almost because our health is on the line,” Yeak said. “It's treated very seriously, and any information leak of how you're going to stop a sudden takedown, what's your game plan, how you're going to fight on that night — it's all important.”
For each opponent, Yeak makes a different gameplan. He commented that MMA is very adaptive and dependent on what your opponent brings to the table. The clout of his opponent never matters to him.
He prepares for each fight like a test, training for months before a match, with each one different: He develops a unique strategy for each new opponent based on height, weight and technique.
Along with this calculative preparation, Yeak stresses the importance of nutrition and weight cutting before a competition. On his phone, he keeps hundreds of notes specific to him for nutrition and pre-game weight management. His housemate, senior mechanical engineer major Caelan Thomas, notices his holistic dedication to his sport.
“The people on his team came over and they all made food together for their diet,” Thomas said. “I met them, and they seem to be pretty close. I got the impression that...him his teammates are like a family.”
Yeak definitely feels at home in his gym community and the Villa Maria hall community here at the University of Portland. As a former “Villan,” Yeak is always congratulated by his former neighbors after a win, or consoled after a loss.
“My friends, especially in the fight community, always look out for me,” Yeak said of his teammates. “They always like talking to me about what I want from fighting, like the philosophy of it.”
Ung has been a big support for Yeak throughout his career here in Portland. He went to many of Yeak’s competitions in Portland at the Roseland Theatre.
“It's just amazing the love that he has for it (MMA) and you can just see how much like fun he’s having in there (the ring),” Ung said from watching Yeak fight. “He tells me before and after that he's scared.”
Even after years of fighting, Yeak still gets afraid and feels anxious about his upcoming fights. Before matches, he talks to people to distract himself and get his mind off the fight.
“It's challenging, like really tough because it breaks you mentally to lose all the time in the gym,” Yeak admitted. “And then like when you perform you realize it was worth it. It was worth getting beaten down but like at the same time. It's anxiety-ridden.”
A major setback Yeak had was December 2017 after he had lost a fight that he names as his first major loss and got a concussion. The concussion prevented him from taking final exams.
“Losing teaches you so much more than winning,” Yeak said. “I realized I had so many things wrong: My diet was wrong, I had a lot of anxiety from my parents. I wasn't adaptable to the situation.”
He wants to go professional and eventually fight in the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but it’s not his only goal. Yeak’s other goal to open his own gym, a goal that could helped be achieved with his operations and technology management major.
He is currently in a similar situation: concussed and injured, Yeak has taken a hiatus from competing to recover. He declined to comment on the current status of his injury. For now, Yeak is looking to continue to improve his technique with YouTube videos and learning from teammates.
Morgan Wahler is a sports reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.