THE REPORT WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE STRAITS TIMES ON OCT 12, 2012
The easy chatter in the reception area of Juggernaut Fight Club takes an unexpectedly serious turn.
Boxer Shahril Salim, smiling and affable before, lowers his voice when asked why he got into the fight game. Those around him also fall silent as he tells the story.
"I am an orphan and this is my chance to do something after all the struggles I have been through in my life," says the 21-year-old.
"My dad passed away when I was nine through illness and my mum died when I was 10.
"After that I shifted from one house to another to stay with relatives. I was very close to being sent to an orphanage but my sister Lisa took me in. She had 10 children and adults staying in her four-room flat but did her best and gave me what she could."
The sense of hurt and hardship is clear in his voice, even as he sits and talks as a strong and powerful man about to make his professional boxing debut at Marina Bay Sands on Nov 9.
"We lived day by day," explains the former ITE College East Simei student, who is the youngest of six children.
"We often only ate rice and soya sauce. If we were lucky, we would get an egg."
Now the only rumbles in his stomach are caused by the need to lose 5kg as he attempts to hit the 63.5kg limit for his light-welterweight fight against China's Mao Yi Jun next month.
The contest will be on the undercard of World Boxing Association featherweight champion Chris John's title defence against Thailand's Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo.
The Indonesian retained his crown for the 16th time against Japan's Shoji Kimura at MBS in May.
Shahril - who has not boxed as an amateur - says the opportunity to make his debut on such a big bill is too good an opportunity to pass up.
"I have been waiting for a chance and this is it," he says.
"I have been fighting my inner demons since my parents died. I want to show other kids that they can also make something of themselves.
"Life is always a struggle, but there is always a way out. There is hope."
With the interview concluded, Shahril, who works at replica weapons store Caesars, walks upstairs to the gym area for a sparring session.
Trainer Arvind Lalwani, after a short pause, states: "I knew he had it tough but didn't know it was as bad as that.
"This is what can make a fighter and this kid has potential, he just needs to be able to show it.
"But this is what boxing offers and is why I got involved in the sport too.
"It offers a way out and a platform to channel feelings and is why I will always be happy to train people like Shahril."
Marina Bay Sands is a worldwide symbol of Singapore's rapid progress but, inside the fight venue next month, Shahril will also represent those struggling with hardship in the Republic.
His fight began a long time ago, and was not of his choosing, yet soon he will get a chance to strike a big blow for his future with the country watching.
Tickets for the boxing show at MBS on Nov 9 are available from Sistic, priced $50 to $500