Agilan Thani: A Modern Role Model For Malaysia's Youth

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Agilan “Alligator” Thani (7-1) made history this past May as only the second Malaysian to challenge for a major martial arts world title. But in the aftermath of a loss, he dealt with controversy, and ultimately, became a better man than he was before.

On 26 May, Thani stepped into the Singapore Indoor Stadium and faced off against undefeated ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren (16-0, 1 NC) in the co-main event of ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES.

Although the 22-year-old had dominated his opposition in the past with relentless takedowns, stellar submissions, and unforgiving ground-and-pound, the tables were turned on him. He experienced his first-ever loss courtesy of the American Olympic wrestler, who took him down and submitted him via arm-triangle in the first round.

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For “Alligator,” it was a devastating setback, and a wake up call. Despite appearing to possess unbreakable self-belief, the Malaysian was mentally shaken, and “starstruck” just by the mere glimpse of the legendary Askren. That night, he learned a valuable lesson.

“I should have believed in myself, and gone out there and performed,” he says. “If I do not believe in myself, then I am giving up on myself.” However, he learned something else the next day, which caught him completely by surprise.

People on social media were blaming Thani’s loss on a lack of support from the Malaysian government because of his ethnicity. Also, there was public outcry from fans and critics alike, because of the perceived media insensitivity to his title loss. This perturbed the man known as “Alligator,” who had always been self-reliant.

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“All these years, I have never asked for any support from the government. I am the kind of guy who does not even ask for much from sponsors. I only ask for gear and banners for my matches. I do not ask for cash or anything to promote myself as a big name,” he explains.

“So most people did not understand what I was doing at first, and just came up with the problem, saying the government did not sponsor me. They said I had achieved so much and was competing for a world title, but the government did not support me just because I am Indian. They made that up as an issue in Malaysia.”

That severely disturbed Thani, especially because he aims to bring the country together, not divide it. Furthermore, he was completely honest with himself, and accepted that he lost the match with Askren on his own.

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Later that night, on 27 May, he set the record straight. He went on Facebook Live and thoroughly explained his stance. In that video, he called for unity, and asked Malaysia to come together in support, rather than push blame and argue about race. 

“I made a video saying it is not the government’s fault, because what I am doing is an individual sport, it is not a team sport,” the former welterweight challenger continues. “That is why I made the video. It is not a racist issue. I just want to continue competing for ONE, and not some other promotion which has no values.”

In the days to follow, Thani unexpectedly received support when he arrived back home in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) paid homage to Thani with a special recognition ceremony, intended to highlight all he has accomplished, and show their appreciation to the country’s new sports hero. Also, they presented Thani with a gold pendant and donated RM10,000 to his training.

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“It has been great so far with the Malaysian community, especially the Indian community,” Thani says. “They helped me out a little bit, and provided me with stuff to get back with training.”

Along with contributions from a couple of other small companies, Thani used the funds to travel to Temecula, California, where he held his training camp at the famed Team Quest for his upcoming match against Sherif “The Shark” Mohamed at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS. The event takes place at the Stadium Negara in his native Kuala Lumpur on Friday, 18 August.

Even though he has become one of the most well-respected martial artists in Malaysia, “Alligator” still feels has has some work to do before wearing the “hero” title.

“I do not consider myself a hero, because I have not done anything yet,” he says. “I still have a lot of things to tweak and improve on.”

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