SINGAPORE: As a child, mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Amir Khan never thought he would lead a simple life, having a normal career job or working in a sedentary nine-to-five job in an office.
“There is a reason why I never thought about what would I be if I hadn’t decided to lead a life of MMA. It’s because I never prepare for failure,” said the Singaporean on the sidelines of a ONE Championship event on Friday (Oct 6).
As an active child growing up, Amir loved the adrenaline rush that came with breaking out a sweat, no matter what the activity was. “I always knew from young that I wanted to be a professional sportsman,” he said.
Having made up his mind, Amir knew that he was in for a career path that could well distance him from his friends. “I love living life the unorthodox way, I don’t like to follow everyone and go down the same safe path,” said Amir, who has been competing in ONE Championship for three years.
“I love taking risks, that’s my character. I don’t feel left out or anything, but I love what do and I want to do this for the rest of my life.. so no complaints there.”
The 22-year-old started out in golf, thanks to his father who was a professional instructor. “I grew up in a normal, middle-class family in Singapore… nothing special. Grew up playing golf and played in a lot of amateur golf tournaments and then I wanted to pick up martial arts just to get fit and learn self-defence,” he said.
“When I was young my father would drive me around the golf course and teach me golf so I was very keen then. I was really passionate... I wanted to be a pro golfer and looked up to Tiger Woods."
However, his passion for golf was diverted to combat sports after trying Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and he has not looked back.
With national service out of the way, Amir is now fully focused on honing his fight craft, as he trains under the Evolve team in Singapore. “I finished national service in May.. and from now on, I will be just 100 per cent focused on MMA training.”
SINGAPOREANS CAN SUCCEED IN PRO SPORT
Aware of the culture in Singapore that tends to favour having a stable job over chasing one’s sporting passion, Amir said it is still possible for a local athlete to chase the dreams of turning professional. “The only reason I’d say that becoming a pro sportsman is difficult, is because of the people around you,” he said.
“Some will try to bring you down and would not really encourage it,” he explained. “They’ll say, ‘Oh in Singapore you can’t really become a pro sportsman’. They insist that others in bigger countries, like the US for instance, would be better off than you are.”
However, he knows the challenges of choosing professional sports as a career but thinks that things will work out in the end if people follow their passions.
“There is this stigma that Singaporeans can’t do well in sports, as other countries have a bigger population and bigger base of talent to choose from,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s discouraging for a Singaporean sportsman, but I would say just follow your passion. If you’re passionate I’m very sure you’ll do well in what you’re doing.”
Having had doubts in the early days on making it as a pro MMA fighter, it was Amir himself who voiced uncertainties about choosing this path. “I told my dad that it isn’t a good idea to be a pro sportsman and that it’s impossible,” he said. “My dad, however, told me I was talking nonsense and advised me to listen to what my heart says.”
These days, the MMA fighter is pursuing what he knows best and sees his long term future in the sport. “As long as you love what you’re doing, you will definitely be good at it as you’re putting in time and effort. You put in countless hours but you’re never tired,” said Amir.
“Let say I’ve decided on a certain fight workout in the gym. For me, I won’t feel the exhaustion because I really love my craft.”
Citing fellow Singaporeans in other combat sports earning world titles and championship belts, Amir believes combat sports has a bright future here. “Nowadays, people are beginning to see that Singaporeans can do it too. I think it’ll just inspire more kids to pick-up combat sports and have someone show them the pathway so they can look-up to and follow.”
“With proper guidance and training I really believe we can produce some of the best fighters in the world.”
LEARNING FROM LOSSES
Amir’s current professional record stands at eight wins and 2 losses. His debut pro fight in February 2014 saw him lose against Cody James via submission at the Global Fighting Alliance 25.
The Lightweight fighter’s fortunes improved after joining ONE Championship, but he soon suffered a defeat in May 2015 at the hands of Shannon Wiratchai at ONE: Warriors Quest on home soil.
Vowing to learn from his defeats, Amir improved on his form and is now on a five-bout winning streak. “Over the years I’ve improved in everything, my striking aspect, wrestling and every single thing including conditioning,” he said.
“I don’t believe that I’m already the best fighter that I can ever be, there’s always room for improvement,” he added. “But if you compare me to a month ago or a year ago… I’m definitely much better.”
While the organisers have yet to confirm an opponent for him, he is hopeful that a victory in Singapore in late November will set him on a path to a title match in the Lightweight category. “I’m still one fight away from the title shot.”
“I’ll still need to get past my next opponent and only then will I get a shot at the title,” said Amir.