Tonna's 'very unique' week

Aussie among five foreign fighters here for One C'ship event under strict measures

For the biggest bout of his career, Australian fighter Josh Tonna will have no fans to cheer - or jeer - him. At tonight's One Championship Reign of Dynasties event, he will challenge for Sam-A Gaiyanghadao's strawweight Muay Thai title behind closed
For the biggest bout of his career, Australian fighter Josh Tonna will have no fans to cheer - or jeer - him. At tonight's One Championship Reign of Dynasties event, he will challenge for Sam-A Gaiyanghadao's strawweight Muay Thai title behind closed doors. PHOTO: ONE CHAMPIONSHIP

Muay Thai fighter Josh Tonna has competed in a packed arena of 70,000 cheering and hooting fans, but the biggest fight of his career tonight will be fought in a silent stadium.

The 31-year-old Aussie will challenge for Thai star Sam-A Gaiyanghadao's strawweight Muay Thai world title in the main event of One Championship's Reign of Dynasties show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

The event will be closed-door owing to strict government measures to ensure participants' safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Tonna arrived in Singapore with his trainer and videographer on Monday. After touching down at Changi Airport, they were whisked off - in separate cars - to Shangri-La Hotel, where they have been quarantined. Since then, they have been in almost complete isolation in their own rooms.

He is one of five fighters out of the 12 featuring on the card who have flown in for the event. Overseas-based fighters will be tested for Covid-19 four times - before they fly to Singapore, upon arrival, before and after the fight - while others will be tested twice.

One chief executive Chatri Sityodtong had explained in an earlier media conference call that, as part of government guidelines specific to the event, overseas-based athletes are not required to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine order in place for regular travellers.

On the eve of his big title fight, Tonna told The Straits Times in a phone interview that it has been a "very unique" fight week, unlike any of his 51 previous fights.

"Leaving Canberra and coming to Singapore was a real experience, with the swab tests, social distancing measures and things like that," he said.

"Typically, when we travel together we'd all be in one room.

"But this time, we were guided to our rooms and escorted all around the hotel… Still, I completely appreciate all the measures the One Championship staff and Singapore Government have done to keep everyone safe and our industry going."

Reign of Dynasties will mark the return of live sport in Singapore since the pandemic obliterated the Republic's sports calendar.

The Singapore Tourism Board said on Wednesday in a statement that it hoped this pilot project with mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation One on safe management measures "could pave the way for sports events to take place in the future".

These measures include creating an event "bubble" where training is allowed only at private designated areas within the hotel and fighters have to follow strict schedules.

Tonna claims that this has not affected his preparation for his big bout, despite being restricted to mostly shadow boxing in isolation for the past week.

Similarly, veteran Thai fighter Sam-A is nonplussed by the unusual nature of the lead-up to this fight. The Singapore-based 36-year-old, who has won 369 of his 425 Muay Thai fights, has been staying at the Shangri-La the past week, but told ST he has been able to train two hours daily.

"Physically, I am very well prepared and this is an important fight for me because it is the first defence of my strawweight title," he said. "Mentally, it has also been good because I like being alone because I am able to be more relaxed before the big day."

He did, however, lament the absence of fans on fight night. He had experienced this once when he captured his title in February at One's King of the Jungle event at the Indoor Stadium.

"It does affect us fighters a little bit," conceded Sam-A. "Sometimes in a fight when you need to summon something extra and push, you need the fans but without hearing their voices and their cheers it is tough. But I already passed the test in February, and I have to do it again on Friday."

After purchasing a meditation app to help him clear his mind, Tonna is focused and ready for his decorated Thai rival.

"This title fight is the biggest opportunity I could possibly have in Muay Thai, and to me it's like the equivalent to the NBA Finals or Olympic gold, so I'm really honoured," said Tonna. "I want to do well so I can be an ambassador for the sport in Australia, bring One there, and inspire our kids."

Reign of Dynasties will feature six contests, including a lightweight MMA bout between Singaporean Amir Khan and India's Rahul Raju.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2020, with the headline 'Tonna's 'very unique' week'. Print Edition | Subscribe