Report Card: Malaysian MMA

Andrew Whitelaw Andrew Whitelaw

FOX Sports Asia gives you the lowdown and shares our views on the MMA scene in Malaysia.

Growth. What a magical word. It’s one that has become synonymous with mixed martial arts (MMA). And why wouldn’t it? At just over 25 years old, it has taken the globe by storm.

Before, we were all sat here, quietly chugging along, enjoying our Masters, World Cups and Grand Slams until ‘Bam’ like a fist to the face, MMA announced itself with a roar as it was stampeded into mainstream consciousness by the massive, global appeal of crossover UFC stars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor.

Closer to home, we have seen the rapid growth in Asia of ONE Championship – the first promotion of its kind, and certainly size and scope. Now, we see champions with ties to the likes of Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore and China. Relatable champions, and ones that provoke another magical word – opportunity.

Despite not having a champion of their own,  Malaysian fighters have become a crucial and burgeoning part of the ONE talent pool.

Both Agilan Thani and Ev Ting had title shots in 2017, Saiful Merican was able to open a gym and scored a movie role alongside ONE colleague Peter Davis.

Ann Osman became a female icon while Keanu and Gianni Subba’s prowess continues to grow with the latter headlining March’s 9th’s Visions of Victory against Reece McLaren. The win in his country’s capital will grant him a shot at the Flyweight strap.

Gianni Subba

In his words, “We’ve come very, very far. When I first started in 2012 there was only two or three MMA gyms.” Despite this, there still appears to be a way to go in terms of the scope of the talent pool, outlined by the fact that Gianni still trains mostly out of Bali MMA due to a lack of worthy training partners of his size in KL.

A massive contributor to that pool that cannot be underestimated has been Tune Talk’s Malaysian Invasion – an organisation that describes itself as “the first largest All-Malaysian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Amateur Tournament in Malaysia”.

Almost all of Malaysia’s thriving stars in ONE have come through the MIMMA route, with the organisation now heading towards the finals of its fifth season.

And given that many sponsors still retain a level of scepticism when it comes to the sport it has been refreshing to see a telco like Tune helping to nurture the game for Malaysia.

They (MIMMA) had a partnership with ONE Championship which really grew the market here and in the last 5 years if you look at it now we have a really educated, really big MMA scene.”

The Subba Brothers

The frequency of pro events is another big indicator of how the scene is coming along.

There’s a reason ONE Championship is set for its first of three shows in Kuala Lumpur this year. Namely, the increasing number of fans as well as interesting fighters to showcase.

One of whom is rising flyweight prospect ‘The Jungle Cat’ Muhammad Aiman who believes that “The KL fans support local MMA in Malaysia pretty well. It’s grown really fast so I’d like to give a good performance and give a good show.”

The jewel in the crown right now though is probably Agilan Thani. A welterweight champion with MIMMA, who already boasts an impressive 8-1 professional – his only loss coming in a title fight against one of the greatest-ever welterweights in Ben Askren. Still just 22, the Aligator is pleased with the progress but remains philosophical.

It’s definitely growing for those that were signing into the pro leagues. We are growing, we are fighting better guys, we are making even more than we were making before…(but) for the smaller community it’s still in the process of climbing the peak.”

“You know the amateurs are still looking up to us; it’s supposed to be everyone working together at the same time so we can reach the peak faster. Instead of one person already ‘here’ and another person ‘here’. It’s going to take a while but we are growing.”

Agilan Thani

As we look forward to the first KL show-piece of 2018, in what has been a busy calendar for ONE Championship, we can acknowledge some impressive strides made by Malaysia and a scene that is arguably the most nuanced in all of Southeast Asia.

MMA is still finding its feet in this region. They have shown promise in the opening rounds, so we are gonna give them a ‘B’.

But if they are to really conquer this MMA thing they need a great champion for the fans to get behind. Given how close they are to achieving that goal with likes of Ting, Thani and the Subbas, they’re not far off getting an ‘A’.

MIMMA Season 5  finals will be LIVE on the FOX Sports Asia Facebook page on March 30th.