For Malaysian star Agilan “Alligator” Thani, inspiration can come in many guises, including in his favorite movies.
The Kuala Lumpur native loves tales of triumph over adversity. These stories have taught him that every individual goes through a different path to success, and the only route to the top is through perseverance and a never-quit attitude.
He has overcome obstacles in his own life to become a top contender on the global stage, and three films in particular left a lifelong impression on him and served as a catalyst for his mixed martial arts career.
Here are the three movies that Thani finds most inspirational.
Forrest Gump (1994)
When Thani first watched the 1994 blockbuster Forrest Gump as a kid, he could not quite connect with the comedy-drama flick.
But after rewatching it several times, the Monarchy MMA standout admits he learned a lot from the lead character’s story during his own journey from an overweight teenager to one of the country’s leading martial artists.
“It was hard for me to absorb the message behind it when I was younger, but after watching it again and again, I finally understood what this movie is all about,” Thani says.
“When you want something so badly, you have to put your mind to it. With that, there’s no stopping you from succeeding.”
The box office hit – which won six Academy Awards, including one for Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the protagonist – tells the story of Forrest Gump, a young boy who was fitted with leg braces and unable to walk properly due to a curved spine.
He was raised by his single mother, who told him that he was no different from anyone else. One day, when he was being chased by bullies, his leg braces fell off, and Gump discovered that he possessed a unique ability.
This incident changed the way he looked at life. Gump joined his high school football team, secured a football scholarship to The University of Alabama, and joined the U.S. Army after his graduation.
Throughout the film, Gump triumphed in other sports, too. He even ran three and a half years across the country after his girlfriend, Jenny, declined his marriage proposal.
“At the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself. I think it’s as simple as that,” Thani offers.
“Whether it was him running aimlessly, in the army, football, or beating a table tennis champion. He was the best because he gave it his all.”
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The Terminal (2004)
“I only watched it because it was a Tom Hanks movie,” Thani says with a laugh, admitting he is a huge fan of the two-time Academy Award winner.
“From the moment Tom Hanks (starring as the lead role, Viktor Navorski) lost his passport, it began to get interesting. I was sort of hooked on to it from then on as the whole setting was so simple, but there were a lot of values one could take back from it.”
In the comedy-drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, Navorski, a citizen of Krakozhia, got stuck in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. His passport was no longer valid because the United States did not recognize Krakozhia as an independent country after a civil war.
That left him as a stateless individual – not permitted to enter the country or return home – so Navorski had to live a minimalist lifestyle and meet new people in the airport while he waited for the diplomatic situation to be sorted out.
“Throughout the film, it shows you that we all need someone in life, be it a friend, or a partner. He managed to lie his way to impress a girl, and that was catchy!” he adds.
“Thankfully for him, at the end of the movie he gets to return home, and this teaches you that maybe sometimes, you’ve got to be patient if things aren’t in your control.”
Eddie The Eagle (2016)
The 2016 British biographical sports movie Eddie The Eagle is last on Thani’s list.
Taron Egerton played the lead role as Michael Edwards in the film, which was inspired by true events. Edwards, nicknamed “Eddie The Eagle,” overcame several stumbling blocks to win an unlikely spot in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
Despite being belittled by other athletes and coming last in his heats, Edwards returned home as a national hero thanks to his courage and determination against the odds.
The story instantly resonated with Thani, who had his own underdog story when he faced off against Ben “Funky” Askren for the ONE Welterweight World Title back in 2017.
“I saw a bit of myself in this movie, especially when I look back at my fight against Ben Askren,” he recalls.
The Malaysian faced many doubters, but through Eddie The Eagle, he learned that every professional athlete will have to deal with critics at some point in their career.
“I didn’t have a proper training camp, and my usual coaches – Bruno, Mehdi, and Coco – were busy with other things at that time. A lot of people were questioning whether I deserved to be there, too,” Thani offers.
“However, I didn’t want to quit. I told myself that I was going to take this shot. Sometimes it’s not about waiting until you become the best, but doing the best for yourself when the opportunity presents itself.
“In my books, that is a win. If Edwards gave up on his dreams halfway through, all his time spent chasing that spot in the team would have gone to waste.”