Thrill is back for Amir

MMA fighter will be part of One's event as live sport resumes in Singapore next Friday

Singapore mixed martial arts fighter Amir Khan has been in training since Phase Two began in June, in preparation for his bout against permanent resident Rahul Raju next Friday.
Singapore mixed martial arts fighter Amir Khan has been in training since Phase Two began in June, in preparation for his bout against permanent resident Rahul Raju next Friday. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

After months spent in hibernation due to the coronavirus pandemic, live sport will make its return to Singapore next Friday with One Championship's Reign of Dynasties closed-door event.

The mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion last featured at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Feb 28, but without any fans in attendance.

The Covid-19 crisis had forced One to switch from live events - which attract between 5,000 and 10,000 spectators here and up to 18,000 in other South-east Asian nations - and produce closed-door shows and broadcast them globally.

Next week's event is headlined by Thai Sam-A Gaiyanghadao, who will defend his strawweight Muay Thai world championship against Australian Josh Tonna.

There will be five other bouts, including a lightweight clash (up to 77.1kg) between Singaporean Amir Khan and Rahul Raju, 29, a permanent resident originally from India.

"When you go without (a match) for a while, they say you get 'fight itch' - I had that," said Amir, 25.

"I missed everything that came with a fight - the preparation, interviews, all the excitement, nervousness… so the thrill is back."

The Evolve Fight Team fighter feels blessed for the chance to be a part of a "good sign that soon things will be back to normal".

The Singapore Premier League football competition has targeted a resumption next Saturday, with all its players and match officials to be swab tested by this weekend.

As for One, it is understood athletes and officials on their card will be quarantined at a hotel from Monday. While most of the foreign fighters such as Sam-A, Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, Eko Saputra and Aleksi Toivonen involved in Friday's event are from the Evolve stable and based in Singapore, there are several others from Australia and China.

One had planned for four closed-door shows in Singapore in April and May, but April's circuit breaker measures scuppered those plans.

Fights were eventually staged in Bangkok on July 31 and Aug 28, but they featured only Thailand-based athletes.

Both Amir and Raju, who trains with Juggernaut Fight Club and arrived in Singapore in 2010 as a student at Temasek Polytechnic, said they had used the long run-up to their fight to sharpen their skills and fine tune their game plans.

Amir did shadow boxing, sprints, and even striking drills with pads taped to a pillar at the multi-storey carpark near his home.

He said he is a "much more improved product" than he was in his last fight in February, in which he suffered a defeat by Japan's Kimihiro Eto. Since Phase Two began in June, Amir has been working with his coach Siyar Bahadurzada to make him as efficient a fighter as possible.

"He wanted to make sure I am able to use what I already have - a solid base I don't always utilise - and take out things that are not always beneficial to me, like unnecessary movements," he said.

Raju, however, backed himself to emerge victorious.

"I'm expecting the best Amir Khan on Oct 9, and I'm looking forward to showing that skill-wise, I'm better than him," he said.

Amir, who has lost four of his last five fights, knows the pressure is on as he looks to rediscover the form that made him a lightweight title contender, and one of One's brightest prospects.

He said: "People know me as the Knockout King (with seven knockouts in his first nine fights) and I want to live up to that nickname, and do that in this fight to give my career a rebirth."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2020, with the headline Thrill is back for Amir. Subscribe