At just 24 years old, Agilan “Alligator” Thani has already achieved an immense amount of success in ONE Championship.
The Malaysian welterweight made his promotional debut in 2015 and went on a six-bout tear to earn a ONE World Title shot just two years later. Despite coming up short, he has consistently shown his ability to bounce back from adversity – both in the Circle and in life.
All of his experiences on the global stage have taught him valuable lessons and helped him to improve as a mixed martial artist. Now, with his accumulated knowledge, he looks to make another run at the gold in 2020.
Here, the Monarchy MMA representative looks back on the top five moments that have defined his career in The Home Of Martial Arts.
Getting The Call From ONE
Just months after becoming the MIMMA Welterweight Champion, Thani created some goals he wanted to achieve as a professional mixed martial artist.
Some of those were long-term aspirations like competing in ONE.
The world’s largest martial arts organization is renowned for signing the best talent across the globe, so the “Alligator” did not expect to receive the call from the promotion so early in his career.
But when his phone rang in early 2015, company officials surprised the Kuala Lumpur native with a contract offer.
“At first, I thought I was not ready for it. But Jason Lo [MIMMA founder] called me and said this was a huge opportunity, and I should take it,” Thani remembers.
“I knew a lot of people who had worked hard for a long time to get to ONE, and here I was with [one] fight as a pro and getting my shot.
“I was pretty scared at first, but I took the contract knowing that one day I could make these guys believe in me.”
The Malaysian made good on his word from the very beginning. He needed only 80 seconds to beat Reant Febriza Rainir via TKO in his promotional debut at ONE: AGE OF CHAMPIONS in March 2015.
Thani’s Second Contract
After brilliantly submitting Jeff Huang via rear-naked choke in the second round of their clash at ONE: THRONE OF TIGERS in February 2017, “Alligator” inked his second contract with ONE.
Thani entered the first agreement as an amateur champion, but now, he had established himself as the premier Malaysian welterweight mixed martial artist.
The Kuala Lumpur native earned six consecutive stoppage victories and was rewarded for his efforts.
“This was one of the moments in ONE that I loved the most because of what they did for me,” Thani explains.
“They gave me a good deal and put me in a place where I felt good about myself. That second contract made me the person I am today.”
For “Alligator,” that second agreement was a symbol that the promotion truly appreciated him and wanted to invest in his future.
“The contract they offered me showed that they didn’t think I was a low-grade fighter,” he continues. “They respected me, and that made me respect my own skills even more.”
Connected To The ONE Family
Thani may have felt respected by the company when he was offered a second contract, but when he received an invite to the first-ever ONE Elite Retreat in Boracay, Philippines in January 2018, he felt deeply embedded within the ONE family.
However, there was one specific moment during that trip the Malaysian athlete distinctly remembers and was extremely touched by.
“This moment really stands out for me,” he begins.
“Mr. Chatri Sityodtong [ONE Championship Chairman and CEO] gave us a speech, and then said afterwards, ‘If you need anything, contact me, here is my number.’
“I felt that I was a part of something. They had put on this great trip for us, and now the boss of the company was recognizing us.”
Those were not empty words, and Thani quickly found that out.
When “Alligator” sent him a text message, he was happy – and surprised – to see Sityodtong answer him back immediately.
“He replied right away, so you can consider that a great moment,” Thani shares. “Most bosses don’t even recognize their athletes, so I was happy about that.”
An Extraordinary Return To Form
The Malaysian experienced his toughest year in 2018.
He suffered back-to-back losses in Kuala Lumpur, underwent back surgery, and then sat on the sidelines for months.
Fortunately, Thani recovered and was offered the chance to welcome Japanese-Korean martial arts legend Yoshihiro “Sexy Yama” Akiyama to the Circle for a welterweight clash at ONE: LEGENDARY QUEST in Shanghai, China.
That lit a new fire within Thani, who trained rigorously at Monarchy MMA so he could be in tiptop shape. That camp itself was intense, and it also represented a turning point in his career.
“The Akiyama match was a special moment for me because it was one of the longest, but most fulfilling training camps that I’ve ever had. It was my first match after surgery in December 2018, and the road to prepare for a guy like Akiyama was a tough one,” he admits.
“First, it was my recovery. I had to get my fitness back and I had to work on my skills. Then, it was the training camp and working on more detailed moves at a faster rate. It was more intense, but I enjoyed the process.
“When it came to the match, I was feeling pretty confident because the process was so good. I just felt different.”
Ultimately, Thani left the Chinese metropolis with a unanimous decision victory and the biggest win of his life.
Training With ONE World Champions
Thani has not stepped into the Circle since his thrilling split-decision victory over Dante Schiro in December, but that has not stopped “Alligator” from forging ahead in his never-ending quest for improvement.
In March, he left Kuala Lumpur and traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA to train alongside ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, two-division ONE World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang, and acclaimed trainer Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA.
Not only did “The Burmese Python” help the Malaysian get around, but he was able to pick up some new tricks at the American mega gym.
“Training alongside guys like Martin and Aung La is one of the best moments that I have enjoyed recently,” Thani offers.
“Being in the same room with not only them, but other World Champions, too, made me realize how much more I can improve. All of them were really nice to me and helpful too. Aung La even dropped me back at my Airbnb place every day after training.
“Besides that, training under the guidance of several top coaches and Henri Hooft was very beneficial to me. He held the pads twice for me, and that’s not something everyone can say.”