THE largest global sports media property in Asian history, ONE Championship (ONE), closed 2019 on a high note, giving fans another thrilling evening of world-class martial arts action. The Axiata Arena, Kuala Lumpur recently played host to ONE: MARK OF GREATNESS, featuring the absolute best in global martial arts talent.
For the thousands of highly charged Malaysian fans who’d converged on the arena on this wet Friday evening, it was the chance to catch their favourite martial arts superstars in action as hometown heroes, Agilan “Alligator” Thani, Jihin “Shadow Cat” Radzuan and Muhammad “Jungle Cat” Aiman returned to the Circle for their final curtain call of 2019. Anticipations were high for a 1-2-3 Malaysian sweep on this sizzling night of martial arts action.
“The Ghost” Haunts “Jungle Cat”
It was the Negeri Sembilan-born Muhammad Aiman who kick-started the night’s action from the Malaysian camp. Looking confident entering the Circle, Aiman had vowed to give the home fans a show to remember in his clash against China’s “The Ghost” Chen Rui.
Unfortunately, Chen wasn’t going to let the partisan home crowd upset his rhythm, coming forth with a virtuoso performance against the hometown favourite. Storming out of the gates in round one, the Chinese star pushed the pace with his aggression and successfully hurt the Bali-based Aiman on the back foot on several occasions.
The action continued in much the same vein for the rest of the bout, with Chen landing a handful of big shots while Aiman played defense. Unfortunately, the 24-year-old Malaysian athlete was a shade behind for much of the contest. For all his efforts, Chen bagged a unanimous decision victory across all three judges’ scorecard.
“When he dropped me in the first round, Chen got that head start he needed. I think if that hadn’t happened, I’d probably still have been in the game,” recalled the former Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) Featherweight champion, before adding solemnly: “I really don’t have any excuses. I just need to go back to the drawing board and do a lot more. I’ve always known that I’m quite a one dimensional fighter so I need to work on that side of my game.”
The Seremban native, synonymous for his wild flowing locks and unpredictable style of fighting, confided that he was struggling with a bad leg throughout the bout. “My eyes could see everything but my legs didn’t follow through. Every time I kicked him, I could feel the pain in my legs. That was my disadvantage. Even my hands hurt really bad – you can imagine the pain every time I punched.”
He admitted that by the second and third round, he was searching for that “big” shot. “I wanted to rock him through my spins and jumps,” shared Aiman, adding: “I saw him overreach whenever he tried to punch. And he looked a little bit tired. I was trying to punch him on the body and maybe make him more tired. That was my plan.”
By the final round, Aiman confessed that he attempted to set up a take-down but wasn’t successful. “My coach Donnie who was “cornering” me kept shouting that I needed to take him down in order to win the fight. I tried but I just couldn’t do it.” Brows furrowing, Aiman graciously conceded: “Chen was a better striker than I’d thought he’d be. He has a really powerful punch and is very accurate with it too.”
On what he has learnt from this “outing”, the young athlete concluded: “Every time you fight, there are lessons to be learnt. One thing I learnt about myself today is that no matter what’s thrown at me, I could still keep standing. I just need to go back and work on mixing things up a bit. It’s MMA after all. You really do need to play everything to be on top!”
“Alligator” Snaps His Prey
Malaysia’s Agilan “Alligator” Thani couldn’t have asked for a better reception when he confidently made his way from the podium and down the long walkway towards the Circle. With so much love emanating from around the arena, the Sentul-born athlete would have been buoyed by the home support as he braced himself for his clash against American newcomer, Dante Schiro.
Looking lean and mean, the “Alligator” was entering the Circle after a disappointing defeat against Japan’s Yushin “Thunder” Okami at ONE: Century at the Ryogoku Kokugikan indoor arena in Tokyo back in October. Suffice to say, the 24-year-old was hungry to taste victory again.
The bout started well, with the home hero successfully controlling Schiro on the ground in the opening round. But as the minutes ticked, the American rallied in the second and almost finished the bout with a deep rear naked choke.
With the crowd rapturously baying for his victory, the Monarchy MMA gym representative raised his tempo and successfully secured a razor-thin decision win over Schiro after three rounds of scintillating action.
“I think I could have performed better. I was a bit sloppy. I didn’t listen to my coaches to be honest. I need to work more on my game,” began the exciting young talent, his words tumbling out rapidly as he ruefully recollected the clash that was. “I think I was rushing too much and too many things went into my head at the same time. I didn’t control my emotions very well.”
His brows furrowed as he recalled just how dangerous his opponent was. “Schiro was strong and well rounded. He came in well prepared. I got the notice that I’d be fighting him in just six days; he got nine. I’m just grateful that he turned up to take this fight against me here in KL.”
Asked to recall the rounds, Agilan, who’s sporting a bad cut on his nose, smiled, before elaborating: “I did okay in the first round. I took him down and controlled him. He reversed me but I was able to stand back up again and take him down.”
A tone of dismay suddenly creeping into his voice, he continued: “By the second round, I got sloppy. I rushed for the take down, thinking that he was tired. But he switched and pulled me down. He took my back and almost finished me. But I got back up.”
By the third round, believed Agilan, he got his grooves back. “I got smart and was just moving and throwing kicks, smothering him and moving away… I believe that my fight was won in the first and third round. He won the second.” Ruefully, the Malaysian, who’s had back-to-back bouts (three) in the last six months, confided: “A split decision wasn’t what I was looking for. I should have won all three rounds.”
Asked what important lesson he’d learnt about himself based on the night’s performance, Agilan replied softly: “That if I’m confident going in, I can overcome anything. Like I’ve said before, I’m still growing, I’m still learning. Every fight teaches me something — about myself. Was I confident going in? Even if I were not, I’d still say I was. Actually, no one goes in confident. We just need to dig deep and believe we can do it!”
Into The Shadows
The Johor-born Jihin “Shadow Cat” Radzuan has always been a crowd favourite. One of the finest female martial artists to emerge from Malaysia, Jihin, a Wushu World Champion and MIMMA Women’s Champion, has always looked impressive every time she enters the Circle.
It wasn’t surprising then that anticipation ran high for her clash against the Philippines’ Denice “The Menace Fairtex” Zamboanga, who was making her ONE Championship debut on the night. The arena erupted the moment the action started as raucous support came pouring forth for the “home girl”.
Unfortunately, much to the disappointment of the home fans — and to Jihin’s chagrin — Zamboanga seemed intent on keeping the Malaysian star at arm’s length and appeared to be settling for a defensive game plan.
Frustrations etched on her face, Jihin, an Ultimate MMA Academy fighter, constantly found herself ushering the Filipino to “come and fight”, pointing to the middle of the Circle so that real action could ensue.
When Zamboanga did finally come through, she was relentless, particularly in her takedown attempts, and was able to defiantly control the young Malaysian on the ground in the first two rounds.
The hometown favourite threw everything she had by the third round, with submission attempts after submission attempts; unfortunately, it proved to be too late as the judges awarded the Filipino, in her baptism of fire, a unanimous decision victory.
“It was a frustrating fight,” began Hayatun Najihin or Jihin, as she’s better known, her tone exasperated, when asked to summarise her bout against Zamboanga. “I felt that she was more intent on stalling rather than actually fighting. She won, yes, but as you can see from my face, she never hurt me at all.”
Her expression earnest, the Johorian shared: “I’m a very aggressive type of fighter. I like to go in, full throttle. But I soon realised that my opponent was just happy to be on the defensive. She kept her distance and that’s why you saw me repeatedly “asking” her to come to the centre of the Circle so we could fight.”
As a fighter, it’s frustrating to face such an opponent, said the spirited 20-year-old, who confessed that she hadn’t had much to go on in terms of researching her opponent’s game prior to the clash. “I did have her in some tricky positions at times. For example, in the third round, I got her in a triangle and she definitely felt it. But I guess because she knew it was the last round, she just held on. As you can see when she got me on the ground and got on top of me, she didn’t do anything. She was just intent on keeping the pressure on.”
But just like a true warrior, Jihin refuses to dwell on this latest setback. The petite athlete is determined to keep grinding as she prepares for 2020. “I have to come back stronger. Agilan is a good example for us to follow. He wins five or six fights and then he loses; and then he fights again and wins. This is life and its ups and downs. Just have to keep your chin up and keep grinding.”
For details on the night’s other scintillating action and official results, go to www.onefc.com.