Keanu Subba entered ONE Championship with high expectations.
The Malaysian was widely respected for his finishing ability in the local mixed martial arts scene, and possessed a work ethic that rivaled his peers.
His older brother, Gianni, had already made a solid impression in ONE, and in October 2015, it was the younger sibling’s turn to begin his ascent to mixed martial arts superstardom.
Subba, who trains out of Monarchy MMA and Bali MMA, has remained fearless in his pursuit of greatness. Now one of his nation’s most popular martial arts athletes, he has lived up to his reputation, as he has earned each of his wins by stoppage.
As a key figure in ONE’s Malaysian success, Subba has already made a lot of unforgettable memories. Here are just four of his favorites so far.
#1 Cornering His Brother In His ONE Debut
Although Keanu kicked off his mixed martial arts career with a local bout in March 2011, it was his older brother – 19 months his senior – who was the first to enter the world’s largest martial arts organization.
Gianni made his official debut against Singapore’s Bruce Loh at ONE: RISE OF KINGS in October 2012, and he had his younger sibling by his side as one of his cornermen.
“[I remember] my brother’s first professional bout in ONE,” Subba says. “We flew to Singapore, and he knocked his opponent out in 33 seconds. That was awesome.”
Although Subba was focusing on his own goals as an amateur at the time, that experience cemented his long-term plans of making it to Asia’s “big show.”
“It made me realize that ONE was where I really wanted to be,” he says.
#2 Brothers In Arms
Three years later, he finally made it.
Subba, who had previously won the MIMMA Featherweight Title, made his promotional debut at ONE: TIGERS OF ASIA in his native Kuala Lumpur in October 2015. His brother was also featured at the event.
The pair pushed each other throughout their shared training camp at Monarchy MMA, and it paid off.
“Being on the same card for the first time and making my ONE debut was pretty cool,” Subba says. “Both of us winning was amazing, along with our teammate Agilan [Thani].”
The Malaysian featherweight admits having to overcome some nerves the first time he competed under ONE’s bright lights, but he overcame his anxiety to earn a first-round TKO against Florian Garel.
“It was a great experience for me,” he continues. “I had not fought for a year, and I got a big adrenaline dump, so I was really happy to get the finish when I did.”
It was a banner night for the Monarchy men. Thani was victorious in the evening’s opening contest, as he submitted Hesham Hiba in the opening stanza, and Gianni completed a hat-trick of wins when he earned a unanimous decision victory over Almiro Barros.
#3 A Breakthrough Performance
With a successful debut in The Home Of Martial Arts in the books, Subba continued to dedicate himself to his training, and battled his way up the featherweight ranks.
He had won three of his four promotional contests heading into his February 2017 clash with then-unbeaten Pakistani grappler Ahmed “Wolverine” Mujtaba at ONE: THRONE OF TIGERS.
Mujtaba, who was 6-0, had just defeated highly-touted Singaporean Benedict Ang in his ONE debut just three months earlier.
The Malaysian used his doubters as motivation to submit the Pakistani via guillotine choke less than three minutes into the match-up.
He points to that victory as his breakthrough performance on the global stage for martial arts – opening the door for higher-profile bouts against even better opponents in the months and years to come.
“There was a sense of relief, and I just felt blessed and grateful. The energy competing in front of the home crowd was crazy,” he acknowledges.
”It definitely gave me more recognition, and people gave me more credit for beating a really tough guy.”
#4 A Triumphant Return
After being out of action for 11 months – his longest stretch of inactivity since making the switch from amateur to pro – Subba was chomping at the bit to return to the ONE cage.
Injuries and other circumstances had forced him to wait on the sidelines for an extended period of time, and he felt a lot of the momentum he had built in the featherweight division was fading. The 24-year-old wanted to make a statement to elevate his stock again.
In July, at ONE: PURSUIT OF POWER in Kuala Lumpur, he brought the house down when he faced “White Dragon” Xie Chao, who entered the bout with a perfect 3-0 slate in the promotion.
Subba ruined that spotless record, as he brought the Chinese athlete down, and submitted him in the first round via armbar.
“I thought maybe the fans would not be behind me as much because of my inactivity,” he explains. “But the energy was amazing, and the atmosphere was crazy.”
It was the screams of the crowd from inside the Axiata Arena that helped Subba stay the course when he had latched on to the bout-ending submission.
“He was so tough. He really hung on during that armbar,” the Malaysian continues. “I thought I might lose it, but I heard people shouting my name, and I kept squeezing.”
With his countrymen behind him, he is confident of continuing his ascent up the ranks, and inspiring his compatriots as one of their most talented mixed martial artists.