After a life filled with hardship, Malaysian hero Saiful “The Vampire” Merican has had a terrific start to 2017. He is coming off a decisive KO victory, appeared in his first theatrically-released movie, and just welcomed his second child into the world. Simply put, this year could not have been any better for him.
The 28-year-old Malaysian Muay Thai specialist looks to extend that jubilation and success on Saturday, 5 August. He is scheduled to clash with undefeated Chinese bantamweight prospect “Rock Man” Chen Lei at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS, live from the Cotai Arena in Macao.
Despite his opponent’s credentials, Merican is ready and determined to defeat anyone put in front of him.
“I am always learning and practicing new techniques with my training partners to get ready for any opponent that ONE has to offer,” Merican begins. “What I foresee happening is he is going to try and go to the ground with me, but I will make sure to have a good defense to stop his takedowns. The rest, we shall wait and see that night.”
After a slow 2016, which saw him compete just once in a losing effort to Geje Eustaquio via knockout, the Malaysian turned up the intensity in training, and was determined to shine in his next outing.
“The Vampire” got his chance this past February at ONE: THRONE OF TIGERS against the Philippines’ Burn “Hitman” Soriano. Despite lasting only five minutes, the match was full of intensity and excitement.
Soriano took Merican down and attempted various submissions, but Merican made it back to his feet and began to stun his opponent with an onslaught of kicks, knees, and elbows. Those strikes were so damaging, Soriano had no choice but to quit between rounds, being unable to make it off his stool for the second stanza.
“The fight against Burn Soriano went the way my coach and I saw it from his previous fights. Nothing surprised me, because we read his game plan, which was to go with the left hook and take me to the ground. I stayed calm, because that is what we wanted him to do, and he did exactly that,” he states.
“That was the hardest fight camp I have ever trained in, because after coming back from a loss last year, the only thing I wanted that night was to bring back the win for my team and my fans. When you are hungry, nothing motivates you more than pushing yourself harder so you become better and stronger.”
The victory was just the start of a wonderful year for “The Vampire.” Later that month, he walked the red carpet for the premiere of Malaysian action movie J Revolusi, accomplishing a childhood dream of finally acting in a film.
Also, this past June, his wife gave birth to child number two. “I am beyond happy, and proud of welcoming our second son into the world,” Merican proclaims. “People that are close to me know that I am a family man, and family is everything to me.”
The Malaysian has also been teaching at his school, Merican Muay Thai Gym, in Kuala Lumpur, where he has remained active. But now, with a match scheduled for 5 August, he has increased his training. In anticipation of his upcoming bout against Chen, he has been diligently training up to three times a day for a total of six hours, and will do that at least five days a week.
Merican will need to be strict in his preparation, because Chen Lei is a wrecking ball who could easily put an end to what has been a banner year.
Chen, a product of the Changsha Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy, has been flawless ever since making his mixed martial arts debut in 2016. The 28-year-old Chinese bantamweight holds a perfect 5-0 record, with all of his victories coming by finish. Most recently, he debuted at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES in May, where he defeated fellow newcomer Jeremy “Predator” Meciaz via first-round TKO.
“Rock Man,” as Chen is called, is a Shanghai Open BJJ Champion who also has a background in Muay Thai, sanda, and boxing. Though the Chinese prospect has undoubted power in his heavy fists, “The Vampire” is also known for his knockout power, and thinks that is where he holds the edge.
“His strength is BJJ, but I believe my teammates and myself have a good game plan to go against his techniques,” Merican says. “I am confident my striking will give me the upper hand this time around.”
If that is the case, then the Malaysian will indeed end 2017 as strong as he started it.