By Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal firstname.lastname@example.org
The countdown begins to the Legend Fighting Championship 11 tonight. Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal meets homegrown mixed martial artists, Muhammad Hanif Zainal and Sam Chan, both looking to make Malaysia proud
THE banter is animated; their behaviour like brothers sharing a guilty secret. Very sportingly, they demonstrate some slick martial art moves in the middle of bustling lunch-time Bangsar, that have pedestrians gawking. Suffice to say, Muhammad Hanif Zainal and Sam Chan, Malaysia’s mixed martial artists are close, sharing the same aspiration — to be the best in the business.
They’ll have their chance to show their mettle in tonight’s Legend Fighting Championship 11 at KL’s Chin Woo Stadium.
The event, broadcasted in 152 countries, will feature three Asia-Pacific Championship title fights and promises an unforgettable night of combat sports entertainment for fight fans.
Chan and Hanif, who first became acquainted in 2011, will be looking for a big home win in their respective weight classes. The former is set to slug it out in the bantamweight category, while Hanif, one of Malaysia’s Mixed Martial Arts’ pioneering fighters, is looking to nail his first Legend victory in front of the home crowd.
At 174cm, Sam “Swag” Chan is the taller and older of the two and true to his nickname has an unmistakable swagger. Prior to discovering martial arts, Chan, 25, was a competitive cyclist, a sport he got into at 14. But he became bored and in his search for greater challenges, stumbled on Muay Thai and, eventually, mixed martial arts.
“I got into Muay Thai when I was 18 and did it for four years,” says Chan, whose forte lies in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-jitzu. “Initially the idea was just to do it for fun and to sweat it out as I had stopped cycling. Five years of Muay Thai and then a friend introduced me to Mixed Martial Arts. I got hooked.”
His first opportunity in the ring came in September 2011 when he entered an open-invitation tournament in KL. With no real MMA training, Chan lost. “I fought against a triple belt, Brazilian Jiu-jitzu, Muay Thai champion. My loss didn’t put me off though. Instead, it fired me further to work myself up to Legend.” Today Chan’s record reads four wins, and two losses.
For KL-native Hanif, his martial arts roots stretch all the way back to his childhood. As a hot-headed 5-year-old, he saw students in his school learn Taekwondo and his interest was piqued. He then signed up to start training himself.
“My exposure to MMA didn’t come until years later when I was in secondary school,” says the 22-year-old who stands at 171cm. “I learnt about the sport through playing MMA video games. There were no academies teaching MMA in the country at the time so my friends and I learnt by studying YouTube instructional videos. We’d then put the techniques we learnt into practice by training together.”
Hanif, a middle child flanked by an older sister and a younger brother, confesses: “I needed to get involved in something that would allow me to channel my inner tension. I had a lot of pent up aggression while growing up and would often break things at home. Things calmed down somewhat when I took up Muay Thai.”
His parents were initially aghast at their son’s decision to get into combat sport, recalls Hanif, whose fight record today reads six wins, two losses and one draw. “They thought that as I was already hot-tempered, doing martial arts would lead me to more bad stuff. But eventually they realised it was helping me so they began to support me.”
IN THE RING
Because of the multi-faceted, tactical nature of mixed martial arts, athletes have to develop a well-rounded skill-set — striking, grappling, and submissions — to compete effectively. They train across a range of disciplines to be able to attack and defend both on their feet and on the ground.
“Your physical and mental conditioning have to be really good in this sport,” says Chan. “Unlike some other combat sports, even when you’re taken down you still have to continue and work the ground until rest time is signalled. Legend fights comprise three rounds lasting five minutes each way, and with a break of one minute.”
As the boys break into animated chatter again as they recall their time in the ring, I ask them about their trickier opponents. Hanif relates his fight with an experienced wrestler and Jiu-Jitzu fighter in Legend. “I managed to give him a hard time but he eventually got me down. My ground game is my problem. I’ve only had trouble with people who have a good ground game — like Sam.”
Those with a good ground game are calmer on the ground, Hanif explains. “No matter how you roll, they have a way to take control of you. It’s a skill that’s not easy to learn. Your body needs to remember certain moves, and different people have different movements so you need to be comfortable with each of them,” says Hanif, a big fan of Bruce Lee.
Chan interjects: “Technique-wise I’m ok but my weakness is my power because I don’t really go for weight training. Hanif has more muscles. If I had enough power I could have won my other fights. An opponent is difficult if he is stronger.”
Is it a nerve-wracking experience going into the ring, I ask.
“Always,” chorus the duo. Chan, whose other passion is rock climbing, adds: “I sometimes ask myself why I’m there in the first place. But then I try to calm myself down and apply what I’ve learnt from training. One of my coaches taught me to think of something that I’m angry about when I’m psyching myself up and then bring the emotions to the fore in the fight.”
And what makes Chan angry? “My job,” he says. “I actually work for my parents right now and we’re in the steel business. It’s a high pressure job.”
Hanif, who admits to being scared every time he gets into the ring, believes that he is driven by his desire to win. “I don’t want to lose to anyone. I don’t like getting beaten up. That’s the mantra I repeat when I push myself internally.”
It’s hard work in the climb towards becoming a great fighter, the boys say. “There’s a routine that you need to observe,” says Chan. “For example, by 7am, we have to be up to go for a jog; then by 10am, we hit the gym. After that, we do our respective jobs, and then after work, we return to the gym to train. When I start feeling lazy, I’d tell myself that my opponent is training so I have to train harder. If I skip one day then I’m at risk of losing the fight. It’s a daily grind of training-work-training-work.”
To be a successful fighter, punctuality, discipline and the willingness to learn are the main criteria, continues Chan, whose downtime is spent going to the mall with his girlfriend and watching comedies and fight movies.
Hanif, whose nickname is Predator (a character from his favourite videogame, Hero Of New World) nods. “Sometimes you have to make sacrifices. I used to study at a college in Sepang and straight after finishing class, I’d rush off for my training at a gym in KL. My expenses were high especially with all the travelling. I stopped studying for a while to work in a gym thinking that I’d be able to get more training time. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen! Downtime? I hang out with my girlfriend and watch movies to tune out. I love popcorn!”
PERKS OF THE JOB
“When I go out with my girlfriend, all her friends would be impressed by the fact that I am a fighter. Even their boyfriends look at me a different way,” says Hanif, when asked whether being a fighter comes with any perks.
“But seriously, being in this sport has made me a better person. Today, I’m more chilled. When people try to pick a fight, I turn away. I used to fight in school. Some of my friends from school still do it today. I tell myself that I am a professional fighter and I fight only in the ring.”
Chan says he’s still trying to get his parents to accept his choice of sport. “They’re scared of me getting injured. Mum and dad are always asking me to stop. Thankfully, I’ve not had any major injuries.”
ThEIR BIG DREAM?
“I want to be a sports model like Malaysian MMA fighter, Peter Davis. He’s also an actor and model,” says Hanif, before breaking into a huge grin.
More info on the fighters and tonight’s event at www.legendfc.com
FOUNDED in 2009 by Mike Haskamp and Chris Pollak, Legend Fighting Championship (Legend) is the Asia-Pacific championship of Mixed Martial Arts. Legend invites national champion MMA fighters from Asia-Pacific to compete in a freestyle tournament using interdisciplinary martial arts skills in supervised matches under a strict set of rules designed to promote athlete safety and sportsmanship.
Legend held its first event in January 2010 at Star Hall in Hong Kong in front of an audience of just over 1,000 fans. From this modest start, Legend has grown into one of the most well-known elite-level MMA competitions in the Asia-Pacific, with an international broadcast and some of the top fighters in the region on its roster.
SPORT OF Mixed Martial Arts
CHINA has been developing and practicing systematic martial arts for over 5,000 years. Large professional competitions were held for individual disciplines beginning from the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE), when thousands of competitors gathered to compete in grappling contests on a raised platform. Since then, China has spawned hundreds of martial arts disciplines, many of which have been adopted and evolved around the world.
Beginning in the 1960’s, Hong Kong’s Bruce Lee advocated using the best techniques from across various disciplines, combined to form “the style of no style.” Although the term “mixed martial arts” would not come into common use until many years later, Lee introduced the philosophy behind the sport to the world.
Today, the sport of mixed martial arts offers a chance for athletes to compete for the title of the best martial artist across all disciplines.
The mixed martial artist must assemble the most effective elements of a variety of disciplines in order to win. At the professional level, these contests represent the pinnacle of martial arts as a sport.
Let the aggression out in the ring… not out of it.