SINGAPORE - The road for many athletes begins with a dream: to be world champion, No. 1, the best.
Not for Muhamad Ridhwan, however.
The 29-year-old began boxing 13 years ago without any expectation of what he could achieve in the sport, or that he could achieve anything at all.
"I never thought I would be on the national team, never thought I would go to the SEA Games, never thought I would turn pro," said Ridhwan, who is undefeated in nine professional fights with seven knockouts
"People always say that you need to have a dream and believe you can achieve it before you actually achieve it, but I've always believed that you just have to work hard, do your best and let God do the rest."
That even-keeled mentality helped him to the International Boxing Organisation (IBO) super-featherweight (58.9kg) title last month, outlasting a hard-hitting Nataneal Sebastian of Namibia to win via unanimous decision.
Ridhwan's doughty performance in the Roar of Singapore III - the first time he had gone the full 12 rounds in a fight - earned him The Straits Times Star of the Month award for October.
The award is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year award, launched in 2008. Both awards are backed by F&N's 100Plus.
Said ST sports editor Lee Yulin: "It took a lot of grit on Ridhwan's part to subdue a dogged, powerful opponent over the full 12 rounds.
"It is qualities like these which make him the champion he is and which will stand him in good stead as his career takes off."
Next year is expected to be a busy year for Ridhwan, beginning with a title defence in Dalian, China, likely against a Filipino fighter ranked in the world's top 30.
"I can't tell you who he is right now, but I've seen some of his fights and he's beaten some good Mexicans in the past," said Ridhwan, who also won the Universal Boxing Organisation (UBO) world super featherweight title in May.
"He's a brawler, someone who uses pure strength, so what we've got to do is use skills and technique in the ring to offset his aggression."
If he wins, the two-time SEA Games bronze medallist then plans to drop down a weight class to featherweight (57kg), and is targeting the IBO world featherweight title in April, a belt two rungs above the one he currently holds.
Winning that belt would put him in illustrious company: British heavyweight star Anthony Joshua and Kazakh middleweight knockout artist Gennady Golovkin are both IBO world champions.
Said Ridhwan of the drop in weight class: "I realised during training that my body can go down further and still be comfortable. We can take the power down and have more speed."
He is keen on delivering his best in front of home fans again. "I would like to fight for the belt here, in front of Singaporeans and give them something to be proud of."