Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Devil everybody loves to ‘kill’


WHENEVER the Muay Thai fighter nicknamed Akuma (Japanese for the Devil) fights in Thailand’s remote north-eastern provinces, his local opponents are motivated to literally “kill” him in the ring.

This is because Akuma, the nickname of Zidov Dominik, is a farang (Thai for westerner).

“In Isaan (Thailand’s north-east) there are not many Muay Thai fighters who are foreigners. The fight is always like a war because the Thai fighters want to show that Muay Thai comes from Thailand,” says the 26-year-old Croat-Swiss.

Normally, Zidov says, in round one the two fighters will go easy as they size each other up. The pace quickens in round two and three, and in rounds four and five the power is turned on.

“But when they fight me, the Thais will unleash all their power from round one. I’ve never had so much pain after a fight as when I fight in Isaan,” he laments.

But Zidov endures the pain for the winner's purse – which in Isaan ranges from 2,000 baht to 3,000 baht (RM200 to RM300).

“Sometimes I fight three times a month (which is too many) and my trainers said I am crazy. But I started late so I need much fighting experience to become a world champion,” he explains.

Five years ago, Zidov – then in Zurich, Switzerland – was a street fighter who “makes s**t all the time for no reason.” He was jailed a few times for theft and fighting.

Unable to bear seeing his mother cry when she visits him in jail, he decided to channel his aggression and energy into Muay Thai, training at Samui Thai, a fight club in Zurich.

“After that, I did not have any trouble in the streets,” he recalls, adding he fought in Muay Thai competitions in Switzerland.

In 2003, Zidov flew to the country where Muay Thai originated because “if I wanted to be a Muay Thai fighter I had to train in Thailand”.

Staying in a Bangkok slum, he trained with a Thai whom he befriended in a fight club in Zurich.

Two weeks later, Zidov hopped on to a bus for a 10-hour journey to Ubon Ratchatani, which is about 30 minutes from the Laos border.

“When I arrived at the bus stop the boy who came to pick me up was this famous Filipino/ Danish fighter Ole Baguio Laursen,” he recalls.

At Ole’s Legacy Gym, he learnt that a good Muay Thai fighter does not necessarily have to be a Thai.

“Although Thais learn it at an early age (about 10 years old), their boxing technique is not good. The Europeans who came to Thailand to learn kicking can knock out a Thai in the ring because they are good boxers,” he explains.

“Now the Thais are improving on their boxing technique.”

A Thai fights more beautifully than a farang, however.

“Thais fight as if they are dancing (to the strains of Thai traditional music that is played during a bout), whereas a farang just wants to win, win, win,” he notes.

“In Isaan, at first, I could not understand why I lost even thought I beat the s**t out of my opponent.

“Then with time I understood that my opponent won because his style was more beautiful than mine. So I learnt to fight with grace and rhythm.”

In October 2007, Zidov had the opportunity to show his grace and rhythm in The Contender Asia, a reality-based television series featuring 16 aspiring Muay Thai fighters from 12 countries.

Ole was supposed to be in the show but he broke his foot in a fight in Japan. He recommended Zidov, describing him to the producers as an up and coming fighter with lots of tattoos and a bad boy reputation.

Zidov became one of its stars because of his likeable bad boy personality. In Episode 11, Zidov fought against his idol John Wayne Parr, who knocked him out of the show.

His life has changed “a little bit” after The Contender Asia.

“People now know me,” says the fighter in the touristy island of Samui where he is training in a gym that promised him fights with bigger prize money.

(Published in The Star on April 19, 2008)