Muay Thai has long been one of the most popular martial arts in Malaysia, but it has never entered the mainstream spotlight, until now.
On Friday, 12 July at Kuala Lumpur’s Axiata Arena, two of the country’s finest exponents of the sport will face off at ONE: MASTERS OF DESTINY.
When Mohammed “Jordan Boy” Bin Mahmoud meets Saiful “The Vampire” Merican in a bantamweight bout, they will realize a lifelong dream and take “the art of eight limbs” to a new level in front of their countrymen.
For years, both men struggled to have their skills showcased on a platform their talent deserved, but now that ONE Super Series has brought their martial art onto the global stage, they can realize their dreams.
Before Merican and Mohammed contest the biggest Muay Thai match in their nation’s history, they explain how they have emerged from the Muay Thai scene in their homeland to become international success stories.
With his back against the wall, can Muay Thai warrior "Jordan Boy" pick up a crucial win on 12 July against fellow Malaysian Saiful Merican?????: Kuala Lumpur | 12 July | 7PM | ONE: MASTERS OF DESTINY????: Get your tickets at ???? http://bit.ly/onemastersofdestiny19????: Check local listings for global TV broadcast????: Watch on the ONE Super App ???? http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp ????????: Prelims LIVE on Facebook | Prelims + 2 Main-Card bouts LIVE on Twitter
Posted by ONE Championship on Wednesday, June 19, 2019
According to Mohammed, interest in Muay Thai varies across the 13 states and three federal territories across Malaysia.
The 23-year-old says that it enjoys a lot of support in northern areas like his home state of Kedah, as well as Perlis and Kelantan near the border with Thailand.
“Although events in Kuala Lumpur generally get more traction, some of the best nights are always located at states like Perlis and Kelantan. The passion and competition is very visible there,” says “Jordan Boy.”
“You can see what it means to them. Sure, the level is nowhere near Thai events, but if you do not have money to make the short trip to Thailand, these events will satisfy you.”
Merican hails from the nearby state of Terengganu, and he got his start in “the art of eight limbs” at the age of 11. However, “The Vampire” did not have access to much formal training when he first pulled on the gloves.
“There were not many Muay Thai gyms in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. I’d have to spend an hour or so traveling to a good one,” the 30-year-old explains.
“Thankfully, my hometown is not too far from Thailand, so I’ve managed to visit some of the gyms there.”
Trips north of the border were a still a luxury, so when he could not make it into Thailand to train with the experts, he practiced at home with a punching bag he made from used car tires, held up by a chain.
“If I was never hungry from the start, I wouldn’t be here [at ONE Championship],” the 30-year-old says.
“It’s much easier these days. Gyms are easily available, and they are well equipped with everything you need to be a true martial artist.”
Scraping A Living
Depending solely on martial arts as a source of income in Malaysia is difficult – especially when it involves a striking-based martial art like Muay Thai.
“Jordan Boy” says he competed twice a month at the start of his career, but he still barely made enough money to cover his day-to-day expenses.
“It gets tiring. At times, I was doing two back-to-back fights with a distance of 300 kilometers or so between them,” the Sampuri Muay Thai Gym Ampang representative says.
“After all that, I only went back home with enough money for petrol, to eat basic food, and to travel to my next fight. It was living life on a day-to-day basis.”
Merican went through a similar experience when he started to compete a few years before his upcoming opponent.
Saiful Merican is always game for a challenge! He faces his toughest one yet against fellow ???????? superstar Muhammad bin Mahmoud on 12 July! ????: Kuala Lumpur | 12 July | 6PM | ONE: MASTERS OF DESTINY????: Get your tickets at ???? http://bit.ly/onemastersofdestiny19????: Check local listings for global TV broadcast????: Watch on the ONE Super App ???? http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp ????????: Prelims LIVE on Facebook | Prelims + 2 Main-Card bouts LIVE on Twitter
Posted by ONE Championship on Wednesday, July 3, 2019
His purses were typically around 700 ringgit (about US$170) per match, and he could not guarantee he would be paid on time.
“It’s the usual thing. This is why we just have to compete as many times as we can, to make sure we are making enough every month,” he adds.
By 2013 “The Vampire” had enough of scraping by, and switched to mixed martial arts in search of prosperity.
Within a year, he was a part of the ONE Championship roster, and he was delighted to be part of a company that treated its athletes with dignity and respect – and rewarded them for their efforts.
“I wanted some security in life. I had a wife, and I needed a stable organization,” Merican adds.
“Hence, when ONE came along, I did not think twice about the transition to mixed martial arts.”
A Golden Opportunity
Unlike his compatriot, Mohammed did not test the waters in mixed martial arts, and built himself up on the Malay Muay Thai scene.
He stayed busy and built a loyal following, but the lack of top-class competition meant “Jordan Boy’s” earning potential and exposure was limited. Most competitors in the same situation ended up leaving the sport behind to work a ‘regular’ job.
However, the launch of ONE Super Series last year meant he could compete in Muay Thai against the best in the world, and make a living.
“You could see some [fans] are starting to pay attention to the international athletes at ONE, and mixed martial arts fans are also getting drawn into Muay Thai. That is great,” he says.
He made his debut at ONE: DESTINY OF CHAMPIONS last December in Kuala Lumpur. Following his entrance to a hero’s welcome, the crowd erupted as he defeated Stergos Mikkios via first-round KO and became an instant national hero.
The launch of the all-striking divisions also means Merican can make his comeback after almost two years away from the Circle in his favored sport – rather than the one he adopted out of necessity.
With this new avenue open to Muay Thai practitioners across Malaysia, “The Vampire” believes the future is bright for students of the ancient discipline across his country.
“I’ve been competing for about 20 years now, and Muay Thai’s fanbase has grown by three times since its early days,” the Terengganu native says.
“It peaked rapidly in the early 2000s, but it sort of dwindled down towards the end of that decade. It has since picked up, and with ONE hosting Muay Thai events now, even mixed martial arts fans will start following the Muay Thai scene more.
“The impact is crazy, and if you want to feel it first hand, be sure to come to the Axiata Arena on 12 July for ONE: MASTERS OF DESTINY. We are going to put on a show.”