Saturday, January 24, 2009

In search of a Muay Thai ‘jaguh’

Thai Takes

WHAT would you do if you won bronze in an international Muay Thai competition?

If you were Ramazan “The Punisher” Ramazanov (pix: right), you would tear up your return ticket to Moscow and stay back in Bangkok to train to be a world champion.

In 2004, while his compatriots returned to Russia after fighting in an IFMA (International Federation of Muay Thai Amateur) championship in Thailand, the 19-year-old Russian middleweight champion chose to remain behind and be a professional fighter.

“My mother was shocked. But she said ‘all right’ when I told her I wanted to be a world champion and Thailand was the place to learn Muay Thai,” the Russian recounted.

His decision paid off.

Last year, he was ranked No 1 in World Boxing Council Muay Thai (WBC Muay Thai) super cruiserweight and World Muay Thai Council (WMC) heavyweight. He is also the World Professional Muay Thai Federation (WPMF) heavyweight champion.

Ramazan’s manager Iskhandar Syah @ Tytus wishes there are Malaysians with the Russian fighter’s attitude.

On July 5, last year, Tytus was at the Stadium Malawati in Shah Alam because his fighter, Zidov “Akuma” Dominik, was in the curtain raiser for the Malaysian edition of The Contender Asia qualifier.

There he spotted a 19-year-old jaguh kampung (village champion) who could be the next Ramazan.

“The first time I saw Hashim Ramli fight I told myself, ‘I want this guy.’ I could see his potential,” recalled the 29-year-old Bangkok-based Singaporean.

Hashim also has a marketable face, one Tytus described as “having the look of a Malay actor.”

Early last month, in Bangkok, a Muay Thai fight promoter approached Tytus about Ramazan fighting in a title bout.

But the Russian was unavailable as he was recovering from a nose job (to straighten his battered nose). Remembering Hashim, Tytus proposed to the Malaysian.

“The promoter was not interested as no Malaysian has made it in the Muay Thai international scene,” he related.

“It would be difficult for him to sell tickets for a fight featuring an unknown Malaysian.”

After much persuasion, the promoter relented. Tytus then called Hashim, telling him “I’m giving you a chance of a lifetime. If you win this title you will be big.”

“Winning a title belt is a stepping stone for Muay Thai fighters. All great Muay Thai fighters — Yodsaenklai (the winner of The Contender Asia) and John Wayne Parr (the runner up) — have won this belt.”

Hashim said “yes.” He was on his way to making Muay Thai history, the first Malaysian to fight in a title bout.

However, the next day Hashim called Tytus, saying: “Abang (big brother), sorry, I have a little problem. Can you please speak to my father?”

“His dad wanted to know how much Hashim will be getting for the fight. I told him the promoter will be paying RM500,” Tytus recounted.

“I told him not to think about money because no promoter in the world will pay an unknown fighter RM10,000. I told him that this was an opportunity for his son to make a name for himself.”

Hashim’s father agreed. However, “little problems” continued to crop up with each passing day.

Six days from fight day (with the fight posters printed and press statement released), the jaguh kampung called to say his father had forbidden him to travel to Thailand.

Hashim, in a telephone interview, admitted that although he regretted letting slip a golden opportunity, he was bound to listen to his father.

“Yes, the fight is very important for me. But my father wanted a flight ticket so that he could accompany me as I’ve never been to Bangkok and I don’t speak English or Thai,” he said in a heavy east coast accent.

Tytus, however, was willing to provide a flight ticket only for a Malaysian Muay Thai instructor who could assist Hashim in his fight.

Still angry at Hashim’s withdrawal, Tytus said: “He had a shot at the title, and he did not grab it.”

Tytus, whose parents live in Johor, has not given up on Malaysian fighters, however.

“But their mentality has to change. They have to think of getting out of Malaysia to improve.”

He is still searching for Malaysia’s Ramazan.

(Published in The Star on January 24, 2009)