Agilan Thani

Against all odds, ‘Boy from Sentul’

battles to bring MMA glory to Malaysia

By Noel Achariam | The Malaysian Insight

WHEN he turned 16, Malaysian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Agilan Thani thought that his life had hit rock bottom.

Tipping the scales at a shocking 139kg, Agilan was the constant target of bullies from his rough Sentul neighbourhood and school, where everyone knew him as the fat boy whose mother had abandoned him.

And then one day, Agilan chanced upon a Chinese movie called SPL: Sha Po Lang, which starred internationally acclaimed actor and martial artist Donnie Yen.

“In the movie, there was a fight scene that caught my attention. It got me fascinated with martial arts.

“I started to research the types of martial arts that Donnie Yen practised and got hooked on it.”

Agilan, now 22, has never looked back.

He joined a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class in Petaling Jaya and managed to lose 10kg in three months. This achievement motivated him to try and lose even more weight.

When he turned 18, he got a job working as a janitor at the Monarchy MMA gym on Jalan Raja Chulan in Kuala Lumpur. He was paid RM1,000 a month, and all the gym training classes he wanted to join.

By then, he had developed an interest in MMA, a full-contact combat sport, which allows both striking and grappling and used techniques from other combat sports and martial arts.

“I got serious and started to train hard in Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing and followed a healthy diet. In six months, I went from 129kg to 93kg.”

Sheer determination to be the best at his sport prompted Agilan, who now maintains a weight of between 77kg and 84kg, to leave his house and “move in” to the gym at 18.

“I wanted to be independent and concentrate on my training, so I left home.

“For one year, I used to sleep on the training mat at the gym. I was paid RM1,000 and after a year, I got a place of my own in Jalan Ipoh,” he said, recalling the decisions that led to him being one of the top MMA fighters in the country today.

Fighting for glory

Apart from competing in various tournaments organised by One Championship tournaments, a Singapore-based MMA promotion, Agilan has also been to the United States, Thailand and Vietnam for MMA training.

His record stands at seven wins – three triple knockouts (TKO) and four submissions.

On May 26, Agilan will face his biggest sporting challenge yet, as he steps into the cage at the Singapore Indoor Stadium for a shot at the One FC Welterweight championship title fight against the defending champion Ben Askren, 32, from the US.

Agilan is aware Askren, who has 15 wins under his belt, is a favourite but he said he is ready to be crowned the first Malaysian One FC Welterweight champion.

“I think I have what it takes to beat him. I’m not underestimating him, but I have a shot at the title.”

Agilan’s achivements so far became public knowledge through a promotional video on his upcoming title fight.

Titled “The Boy from Sentul”, it featured photographs of a young, chubby Agilan, his training sessions and an emotional interview with his father, who is proud of his son’s achievements.

“Not once has he asked me for money, but he would frequently ask: ‘Pa, do you have enough to spend on yourself’?” his father, Thani, said in the video.

A father’s love

Agilan’s love and respect for his father is obvious.

“Growing up, he was all I had. Everything I know about how to speak to people, how to respect people, I learnt from him.”

Agilan was raised single-handedly by his father after his mother left them when he was only one. He and his father, a restaurant manager, stayed in a five-storey walk-up flat in Bandar Baru Sentul.

While he was sure of his decision to become a professional fighter and to take up MMA as a career early in life, Agilan said his father was not so convinced.

“My father was hesitant at first and said that taking up MMA is not a career as he wanted me to take up computer studies. But after my wins, he came around and started supporting me.”

Agilan said that if a Donnie Yen movie had first inspired him to take up martial arts, it was now his father’s love and support which pushed him to be the best.

“He has always been there for me and took care of me. Now, I want to give back to my father by making him proud and winning fights.

“I also want to show the world that the ‘Boy from Sentul’ has arrived.” – May 17, 2017.

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