One Championship

Malaysia’s Agilan ‘Aligator’ Thani out to justify hero tag in One Championship showdown with Egypt’s Sherif Mohamed

Featherweight world championship title bout between Russia’s Marat Gafurov and Vietnamese-Australian Martin Nguyen headlines Friday’s Quest for Greatness event at Kuala Lumpur’s Stadium Negara

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 2:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 August, 2017, 7:13pm

The last time Agilan Thani fought he lost, but the Malaysian still returned home a hero.

The 22-year-old Thani captured hearts across his homeland in facing up to unbeaten American sensation Ben Askren for the One Championship’s world welterweight title in Singapore in May, even though his title shot lasted all of two minutes and 20 seconds.

“Although I didn’t win, I’m still proud of being able to put Malaysian MMA on the map,” says Thani.

Malaysian government officials were quick to throw their support behind the fighter known as Aligator, hosting him at a formal reception and a post-fight press event in the nation’s capital of Kuala Lumpur that helped see Thani’s story splashed across media for days.

And it’s some story indeed as Thani has gone from a being a bullied and overweight teenager to dropping 60 kilograms and reinventing himself as a fighter good enough to attempt to become his country’s first MMA world champion.

“I got my chance to vie for the world title last May. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture it,” says Thani. “My next step is to be back on that stage again. Even though I lost, there were still a lot of people who extended their encouragement and that really uplifted me.”

Now Thani (7-1) returns to fight in front of the faithful on Friday night, for the first time since that unsuccessful title shot, as he faces off against Egypt’s Sherif Mohamed (8-3) as part of the One: Quest for Greatness event at Kuala Lumpur’s Stadium Negara.

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“It feels great to be back home and to feel the energy from the home crowd,” says Thani. “Every roar from my countrymen gives me the adrenaline that I need for my match.

“It brings out the best in me. I predict I will finish it as fast as possible. My strategy is always the same – I’ll try to take you down and submit you, or ground and pound you.”

It’s on a card headed by a clash between two of the most exciting fighters the One stable has to offer in Russian featherweight world champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov (15-0) and the Vietnamese-Australian thrashing machine Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen (8-1).

But when Thani appears, expect the roof to be raised, with the Malaysian saying he has come out of his title shot a far smarter fighter – and he puts his hand up in admitting that his approach to Askren was all wrong.

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The American applied an arm triangle choke before Thani really even knew what was going on, and pushed his own winning streak to 16-0.

“It’s still a long way before I become a world champion, I know that,” says Thani. “But maybe this is where I start. I’ve taken the defeat in a good spirits. I don’t have any regrets and I don’t blame anyone. It’s my fault.

“I was on an emotional rollercoaster. When I saw Askren, I was star struck. I was fighting someone who is one of the greatest in the world, and I did not believe in myself as much as I should have.

“Having had the experience of facing a world champion, I can now better prepare myself mentally and physically for future matches. I am still in high spirits.”

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Sparks are expected to fly in the main event on the 10-fight card, as Gafurov handed Nguyen his only loss to date in September 2015 when he took the fight on just a few days notice.

That was for the interim featherweight belt, and the Russian ended it with a rear naked choke hold after just 41 seconds.

Two years and four impressive first-round victories of his own later, and Nguyen says he is a different beast now with five knockouts and three submissions in total on his resume.