Mixed martial arts: Thani now brushes off Askren's trash-talk

Malaysian Agilan Thani has learnt to focus on Friday's big fight here and ignore American rival Ben Askren's mind games.
Malaysian Agilan Thani has learnt to focus on Friday's big fight here and ignore American rival Ben Askren's mind games.

In his preparation for the biggest bout of his life on Friday, Malaysian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Agilan Thani has had to train himself not only physically, but also for something that he has never experienced before - his opponent's trash talking.

One Championship welterweight champion Ben Askren, who is defending his title against Thani in the co-main event in Friday's Dynasty of Heroes fight event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, has been firing pre-fight remarks disparaging the 21-year-old.

The American, who boasts a 15-0 win-loss professional record, is predicting a first-round technical knockout win, and even said: "If he takes me down and submits me, I will retire."

The 32-year-old, a two-time National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I wrestling champion and ex-Olympic wrestler, is clearly playing mind games with Thani - and it worked initially.

He said: "At first, it got into my head because (trash talking) was new to me.

"I was getting frustrated over small things in training. If I didn't do well in training, I would feel so useless, and cry sometimes.

"But now I take (Askren's jibes) as a compliment and I feel no emotion going into the fight."

Nicknamed "The Alligator", Thani is quickly gaining prominence in the MMA world.

Having turned professional in 2013, he signed for One Championship in late 2014 and will be looking to make it a 8-0 against a formidable opponent. But Thani remains grounded as he eyes a long and fruitful MMA career.

Said the Kuala Lumpur native: "A win will be another pat on my shoulder because there's more to this sport than just winning a belt.

"When I first started, my dad could afford only three months of training and a boxing glove. Thankfully I managed to get a job in the training gym. The rest is all hard work."

So what will be Thani's first word upon facing Askren on Friday? "I have not much to say to him, but I am just looking to fight him on fight night."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2017, with the headline 'Thani now brushes off Askren's trash talk'. Print Edition | Subscribe