“BANGUNNN Mattt! Bangunnnn! (Get up, Mat, get up)!” The urgency in the command coming from one corner of the ring is discernible but slowly, the words seem to swirl away into the darkness as the arena erupts with the raucous chanting of the highly-charged crowd.
Inside the ring, the dazed expression on the handsome face of Mohammed “Jordan Boy” Mahmoud, one of Malaysia’s top Muay Thai athletes, says it all. Slumped against the ropes and surrounded by concerned officials, the 24-year-old can only look on as his 34-year-old opponent, eight-time Muay Thai World Champion, Liam “Hitman” Harrison, basks in the adulation of his fans inside Bangkok’s Impact Arena.
The Englishman, whose fight moniker “Hitman” truly befits him, had done what he’d promised — end his bantamweight bout at ONE: A New Tomorrow with the young Malaysian up-start in highlight-reel fashion, taking just over two minutes to knock “Jordan Boy” out.
His early crushing left hook had sent the Malaysian to the canvas, from which the half Jordanian/half Malaysian athlete never really recovered from. This win gives Harrison his first victory in The Home Of Martial Arts, pushing his professional record to 86-23-2.
As the blazing spotlights slowly dim on the centre of the ring, and the hitherto raucous chanting is replaced by a steady hum, I can just make out the dejected silhouette of Mohammed as he makes his way out of the arena, his cornermen, comprising older brother, Nidal, and fellow athletes and friends, Fakri and Fauzan from Muay Thai 98 Fitness Gym, in solemn tow.
“Liam is such a legend and has so much experience. Even I learn techniques from watching his YouTube videos. He’s like one of my idols, kak!” The familiar voice, laced with unbridled enthusiasm, slices through my reverie, dragging me away from my memories of fight night and back to the bustle of a Bangkok mall where I’m enjoying coffee in the company of “Jordan Boy” and his brother, Nidal.
His eyes dance when he adds: “When I found out that I was going to share a ring with a legend, yes, I was apprehensive, but I was excited too. Even though I lost, I don’t feel shattered. Not like the times before. Losing to a legend is nothing to be embarrassed about. I gained more than I lost.”
Shafts of sunlight streak in from the oversized windows in the cosy cafe, and we’re a world away from the darkened headiness of Impact Arena. But the buzz from the night before is still palpable as Mohammed, fresh from his silver-medal turn in the sport of kickboxing at the recent SEA Games in the Philippines, continues to reminisce his memorable outing against the “Hitman”.
“Actually, I was informed of the planned bout against Liam just a week before the SEA Games,” shares the Sampuri Muay Thai representative, adding: “I didn’t want to accept initially because I wanted to rest straight after the Games. Furthermore, I’d cut weight for the event from 70kg to 62kg. In the end, after long talks with Nidal and the rest of my family, I accepted the challenge but was left with only two weeks to prepare myself for the fight.”
Going into the clash against Harrison, a top-class competitor in the home of “the art of eight limbs”, Mohammed shares that his confidence had been at an all-time high. “My mental state was good and I couldn’t wait to get into the ring,” he admits, before confiding: “With previous fights, I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before. I’d spend the time overthinking everything. With this one, I felt calmer. The night before, I just listened to some motivational stuff from YouTube to inspire myself. I knew that if I won this fight, my name would explode. Liam is a legend and legends aren’t beaten everyday!”
For the Kedah-born athlete, his unfortunate defeat may have marred his fight record, of which he has chalked up two wins and four losses (up to pre-Harrison clash), but on another level, he believes that he has won a personal victory. Says Mohammed: “The fact that I accepted the challenge to step into the ring with Liam was, for me, already a victory. A lot of people were incredulous when they heard that I accepted the fight. They said, “Liam will kill you”. There were plenty of dissonant voices. But I just pushed them aside. My family, close friends, all rallied around me and I went in with the view that all legends start from somewhere too. To carve a name, I needed to meet with someone with a name.”
A sudden smile flits across his face and Mohammed jokes: “Well, he may have “killed” me but I did leave Liam with a souvenir from our fight! Did you see the cut I gave him? All that blood that was trickling down? My face is okay kan, kak!”
Joking aside, the 175cm athlete, synonymous for his flamboyant style outside the ring, truly believes that in order to develop as a fighter, it’s important to take on challenging opponents. “Winning is great but winning against people that you know you can overcome easily doesn’t teach you anything,” he muses, brows furrowing in thought.
Continuing, he poses: “Where’s the learning in that? I need to fight against people who are better than me. If I win, then that’s a bonus. If not, I would have learnt invaluable lessons, such as what are my weaknesses, how should I overcome certain situations, how to adjust etc.”
At the end of the day, confides the soft-spoken athlete, he fights for his family first. And then his fans. “If people support me, it’s great. If not, it’s also fine. I see the comments people make on social media and I guess you just can’t please everyone. Netizens will always have something to say. What’s good, I take; what’s nasty, I delete it from my mind. That’s survival!”
His two-year journey under ONE Championship, the world’s largest martial arts organisation and Asia’s largest sports media property, has seen him pitted against some formidable talents from around the world, with varying degrees of success.
Back at home, Mohammed is considered among the top in Malaysia’s Muay Thai fight scene. Chuckling, the affable athlete confesses: “It’s getting harder to get ‘good’ fights in the country because every time I sign up for a tournament, a lot of names start ‘disappearing’ from the list! I do need to continuously better myself and ONE is the only platform that can give me this.”
Ultimately, just like other great fighters on the ONE roster, Mohammed is eyeing the coveted belt for his division. “But I don’t know when that will happen,” he exclaims, chuckling good-naturedly. “The Muay Thai scene is so saturated with great fighters and a lot of big names. I just try to learn from all of them.”
As far as he’s concerned, it’s the Thai fighters that make the toughest opponents. “They’re just so tough,” exclaims Mohammed, adding: “Just look at how hard their bodies are. The Thais pick up the sport from young and their muscles are developed from then. Malaysians, we’re not as hardy. We have so much to do just to reach that level because we start so much later. Muay Thai is in their blood!”
FIGHT ANOTHER DAY
Now that the dust of that fateful night has settled, the rising Muay Thai talent knows that he needs to return to the drawing board and re-think where he’s headed next. He acknowledges that the first thing he needs to address is his self-discipline. “I get a lot of lazy periods,” admits Mohammed, ruefully. “It’s a struggle to self-motivate sometimes, just to get up and train early in the morning. My training starts when I get up!”
Looking thoughtful, he adds that unlike a lot of successful fighters, he doesn’t actually have a dedicated coach or gym that is committed to his development in the sport. “I have my brother, of course, but he’s also a fighter and sometimes he has his circuits to pursue. In terms of preparation for fights, we’re still quite haphazard. Moving forward, I will seriously consider putting myself in a training camp before every fight.”
Training camps, explains Mohammed, whose next Muay Thai outing is a tournament in Shah Alam next month — Malaysia against Laos — are an integral part of fight preparation. “It takes you away from your family, friends and other distractions so you can focus on how best to prepare for what’s coming,” he elaborates. “Here is where you’ll meet with good fighters from around the world and pick up skills. If you stay in Malaysia, you can’t grow because you end up meeting the same people, most of whom won’t be able to give you the challenge you need. This is something I really want for the purpose of furthering my journey.”
His gaze sweeping the scene of a growing lunch-time bustle in the mall, the 24-year-old looks pensive. What’s up, I blurt out. And he turns, eyes boring thoughtfully into mine. “To be, and remain, in the ONE stable, you need to be at the top of your game,” Mohammed eventually replies. “It’s a different ‘species’ of athletes/fighters that can make it in. And it’s an honour to be selected. Once in, I know I need to throw a challenge to myself — that I do everything I can to ensure my longevity in it.”
For other results at ONE: A New Tomorrow, go to www.onefc.com
RAPID FIRE: JORDAN BOY
1. Favourite food: Mansaf, a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur.
2. Favourite hang out place: Bukit Bintang, listening to buskers. But these days, I like to lepak at home and play with my cats. I have 20! Some I adopted, some I bought. I have Persians, Maine Coon, British shorthair, Bengal, all high maintenance cats! In my room, I have eight cats sleeping with me!
3. Favourite word: Gege – Kelantanese word for chaotic.
4. Favourite colours: Blue and green, like the Jordan flag.
5. Favourite music: R&B
6. Favourite animal: Cat
7. Favourite time of day: Night. It’s calm and that’s when I find peace.
8. Favourite style: Casual and relaxed.
9. Favourite quality in people: Those who are easy-going.
10. Favourite activity away from gym: Playing PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, an online multiplayer battle royale game) and playing with my cats.