Maw of the alligator

LIKE the tale of Icarus flying too close to the sun using artificial wings made out of wax and feathers in Greek mythology, and subsequently plummeting into the sea after the wings had melted from the heat, the parable of hubris could be applied to Agilan Thani.

Wresting a streak of seven undefeated wins in mixed martial arts tournaments, Agilan would go on to challenge ONE Welterweight Champion, Ben Askren, before almost immediately suffering a loss to Askren by submission via an arm triangle choke in the first round of their much anticipated title match.

Critics of the 22-year-old cage fighter would say that his loss in May was an inevitable outcome due to overconfidence, or the apparent lack of hubris in challenging an Olympic wrestler so soon into his professional mixed martial arts career.

Striking closer parallels to Rocky Balboa than to Icarus, the hulking 175cm Agilan, sporting a dorky demeanour, is the antithesis of overconfidence, and anyone that has ever watched a Rocky film in their life would know that there is nothing better than the story of an underdog bouncing back from a crippling loss, fists clenched, stronger than before.

This is exactly what Agilan demonstrated on Aug 18, returning three months after the match with Askren, to decisively defeat Egypt’s Sherif Mohamed, wresting his eighth win on his 22nd birthday.

How did you get the nickname ‘Alligator’?

It’s a funny story. I fought in a tournament in Johor Baru. It was my first, and I had to fight someone that had more experience than me. His nickname was “Raging Bull”. To sell tickets, they nicknamed me “Alligator”, so that it looks nice. “Raging Bull vs. the Alligator”. Marketing, you know?

In which areas of mixed martial arts are you good at and trying to improve upon?

I’m trying to improve on everything, but my bread and butter is grappling. I like jiujitsu, grappling and wall wrestling. I’m good in these areas, but I’m trying to get better at it. I would also like to get better at striking.

Who are the people that keep you grounded in your life, those that stop the fame and glory from getting to your head?

My girlfriend manages everything for me. She’s always reminding me what I should do, what I should not, how to speak, and how not to speak. There’s a lot of things I’m still learning. My dad always tells me, “If you cannot be a great person, try to be a good person. Set a good example.” I just try to be a good person, and when I fight, I try to rip people’s heads off.

I imagine someone has to be in a different mindset, when they get in the cage and when they get out, to be able to flip that switch on and off. Have you ever left the switch on after a fight?

Never, but I get angry very fast. I’m still learning how to control my anger, but when in fights, I don’t get angry; I’m calm, yet aggressive. It’s hard to put anger, calm and aggressiveness together.
During training, I try to stay calm and aggressive, and it never happens, but when I fight, it comes. It is something that I’m blessed with I guess; a state of mind that only comes when it needs to.

In February, you began gunning for Ben Askren’s blood. What is your next goal?

After Askren, I’m not going to be speeding everything up, and I don’t want to rush anything again. I’ve learned a lot after my loss. I’m just taking my time now, especially to reinvent myself into a better athlete, not only for upcoming fights, but for the future.

As someone that was bullied in school, triumphed over the trauma, and made something of yourself, do you have advice for kids who are currently going through what you went through?

The best thing you can do against bullies is to ignore them, and prove that you’re worth better in life, and to prove that, the only thing you can do is improve yourself; work hard, study hard, pass your examinations, become somebody.
In the eyes of certain people, you’ll be worth something, but you’ll never be worth anything in everyone’s eyes. Do your best to ignore bullies. That way you stay out of trouble, and they stay out of trouble. Trouble comes from both sides. The only way to live life is to forgive and forget.