When Agilan “Alligator” Thani returns to the Circle next week, he’ll be prepared to show why he should still be considered one of the best athletes in the welterweight division.
The former ONE Welterweight World Title challenger will take on Hiroyuki “Japanese Beast” Tetsuka at ONE: NEXTGEN II on Friday, 12 November, in a match he hopes will put an end to his recent run of mixed results.
The Malaysian is well-aware of Tetsuka’s impressive power and knows the Japanese star’s heavy strikes have put six opponents to sleep. Still, he is confident that he can avoid those shots and spring a surprise at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
In this exclusive interview, “Alligator” speaks about his latest training camp, his opponent’s biggest threats, how he plans to end this contest, and much more.
ONE Championship: How much do you know about your opponent, Hiroyuki Tetsuka?
Agilan Thani: My opponent is pretty tough, pretty jacked, pretty ripped. He has strong hands; he definitely has a lot of knockout power. However, I’ve never seen him do much on the ground, and perhaps he doesn’t have any grappling traits. I’ve never seen him do that, but I’m hoping for the best version of him.
ONE: What do you think of his approach in his last match when he fell to Murad Ramazanov? Did anything he did impress you?
AT: He got taken down too many times. He was held on the ground for a long time in that fight, and I guess it’s something he should put some effort on. He always tries to knock your lights out, or he tries to take you down and pounds you out. He doesn’t try to pass guard or submit. I’ve never seen him do that.
ONE: You mentioned his physique and strength earlier. Could this be a deciding factor in this bout?
AT: It wouldn’t matter. Most of the guys I fight now are as strong as I am. I’ve fought stronger guys and been able to weather the storm. I’ve absorbed really good shots, so at this point, strength doesn’t matter. What matters is whose mind is sharper, who can think faster and more efficiently than the other.
It’s all about preparation and also being more composed. The older you get, the more composed you must be. We can’t fight like how we used to fight back then, just going in there to try and bull-rush. These days, the guys are faster and smarter.
ONE: How do you think your preparation for your upcoming bout has gone so far?
AT: Training is way harder compared to back in the day. However, I have adapted to it. It’s going into my second year since I left Monarchy MMA. My head coach is pretty much still Conrado Furlan, and I work with another professor called Oswaldo, he’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
I train for my camp at the gym I work in as an instructor, Blueprint Martial Arts in Kuala Lumpur, and in North Kiara MMA. The MMA community in Malaysia – the boys who compete and fight – there’s not much of them anymore. Thankfully, I still have the olden-day guys like the Subba brothers. In fact, one of them [ONE Championship athlete Keanu] still trains with me.
ONE: Can you give an insight on what areas you have been focusing on?
AT: We train a lot of ground control in North Kiara – a lot of it. Instead of just taking down a person and holding them down, we’re trying to get into positions where we can stay comfortable for longer periods of time to accumulate damage. When I used to work with Bruno [Monarchy MMA Head BJJ Coach], it was all about a ‘hunting for a submission’ kind of game. But right now, we have changed it.
At Blueprint, we work a lot on striking setups, shots, takedowns. With Conrado, it’s a similar thing. The only additional thing I train with him is the footwork. For a very long time, I’ve been trying to be this world-class striker, but I’ve now realized that I have to use my footwork to set my strikes up. And I’ve got to set my strikes up better to take people down – where, eventually, I can become much more comfortable trying to win a fight.
ONE: The lockdowns in Malaysia throughout the last two years were tough on many martial artists. How did you go about it?
AT: Even though lockdowns were imposed, I was still able to get some training in. I’ve just been doing it at home, going to my friends’ places, and so on. At the end of the day, we’ve got to do what we have to do. Because if we don’t train every day, we’re going to be super unfit to step in and compete.
ONE Championship: There have been concerns raised since you’ve lost four of your last six fights. What are your thoughts on this?
AT: At one point, I did think like, ‘Oh, that’s it. My career is over.’ But I now know that this is part of my career, and I’ll have to endure it. Maybe some people will just have one or two losses. Maybe, I’m the guy who needs a couple more losses to hit the peak.
No athletes made it to the top without a bump – unless you’re Khabib [Nurmagomedov]. This is my bump. I’m learning throughout it. I’m not going to say I’m 100 percent confident to beat this guy. But I know how to fight, and I know I can get the job done. For now, I have to focus on the training, and I have to focus on what I can control now. That’s it.
ONE Championship: You definitely seem very focused on this fight. Where do you think this match will be won?
AT: Ground control. I believe it will be won by taking him down and keeping him down. If I was as confident as I can be, I’d probably want to finish him with a submission or TKO. Otherwise, I want to dominate him on the ground and Circle control – putting him down, wearing him out, tiring him out for three rounds.
I have to also look out for everything. At the level we are fighting now, everybody is so well-rounded. It’s not like back in the day, where there were some guys who knew Jiu-Jitsu, and some didn’t. The guys these days know everything. There’s no more walks in the park. So, I’ve got to be prepared for everything.
ONE: Tetsuka is known to pack some power in his punches. Is this something you must avoid at all costs?
AT: I welcome it [his knockout power]. I want to see how strong I am. I’ve only been dropped once in my career which was with Zebaztian Kadestam – and that too wasn’t even a knockout where my lights went out. I have to test myself and see if this guy can put my lights out or not. At least I will know how strong my chin is.
ONE: In a perfect world, how would you like to end this fight?
AT: I would definitely like it [to end] in the first round, so I can finish the fight early and go home. But I think I cannot put expectations this high. I want to go out there and feel it for myself before I give an answer. I’m not that fighter who can just be that confident.