KUALA LUMPUR: Former world No. 1 muay thai exponent Saiful Merican has decided to retire from competitive fighting after struggling with a hand injury over the past few seasons.
The 35-year-old, who competed in both muay thai and mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions throughout his career, said it was a tough decision to make.
Saiful, whose cage name is "The Vampire", last fought during ONE's Masters of Destiny event (Kuala Lumpur) in July 2019.
"I never thought I would have to make this announcement (so soon) but I have to accept the fact that it is time to retire," said Saiful when contacted today.
"I started fighting when I was 11 at competitions held at funfairs and football fields in Terengganu and have come a long way since then.
"There have been a lot of highs and lows, but reaching the No. 1 ranking (Under-57kg) in 2009 was the sweetest moment in my career.
"All fighters have a never-give-up attitude and would like to fight even in their 50s if they could.
"But I have to accept that my body today is not the same as it was 10 years ago.
"I broke my left hand during a fight in 2017 and had to have metal plates inserted. It (hand) was never the same after that. It was as if I had lost one of my weapons.
"Due to my age, it is also harder for me to compete against other fighters, especially the younger ones who are coming up now.
"I also have three children now - the eldest (daughter) is 13 — and it is not easy for me to leave them for three to four months at a time to go and join a training camp abroad before fights.
"My muay thai gym (Merican Muay Thai) is also expanding and it is harder for me to commit to the training that is required before fights."
Merican Muay Thai gym, which almost went under during the Covid-19 pandemic, has since come back strong and now features three outlets in Damansara Jaya, Damansara Heights and Kota Damansara (opens in two weeks time). The latter two are new.
Saiful said his main goal after retirement is to focus on developing more fighters for Malaysia as well as help create more coaches for the sport.
"Our outlet at Damansara Jaya has been extended and now has an outdoor gym area which is modelled after what muay thai gyms are like in Thailand," he added.
"It has always been my goal to develop new fighters when I retire. And now, I have the ability to focus on doing just that."
Saiful said he was focusing on muay thai coaching and would refer those interested in learning MMA to gyms he recommends.