Features

How Agilan Thani Transformed From Bullied Overweight Teenager To Welterweight Sensation

December 18, 2017

Malaysia’s Agilan “The Alligator” Thani has quickly established himself as one of the world’s best welterweight martial artists.

The 22-year-old has become widely respected for his relentless pace and suffocating ground attack, which ultimately elevated him to a shot at the ONE Welterweight World Championship.

However, before the passionate soul even had the opportunity to vie for a martial arts world title, he suffered from obesity, and was constant victim of childhood bullying. Not only did he endure physical confrontations, but he frequently experienced psychological torment, as well.

The Rough Streets Of Sentul

Growing up, Thani’s mother abandoned the family when he was still an infant, so “The Alligator” was raised solely by his father, who provided for his son as a restaurant manager. 

“My mom ran away when I was a child, so whenever someone asks me, I tell them she went to the Olympics and never came back,” he says, trying to make light of a sensitive situation. “It did not bother me at all, because I have never seen my mom’s face and never had any interactions with her.”

When Thani was 8 years old, his father relocated the family to a one-bedroom apartment in Sentul, a crime-ridden area of Kuala Lumpur. Racism and classism was also rife in the neighborhood, and that affected the young Malaysian.

“People looked at you differently if you were from the higher or lower class, if you were a rich or a poor boy, if you have dark or light skin, and all of that stuff. Where I come from, it is a lower-class area, so I got bullied a lot,” he says.

“If you are a good boy, you get bullied a lot too, and I was a good boy. I was a lazy kid in school, but I never bothered anybody, so people started bothering me. I was a good kid in a rough neighborhood.”

The bullying started because the soft-spoken Thani was an easy target, but he never complained about it too much, because he acknowledges that some people had it worse than him.

“Some people think it is a bad day when I got beaten up, but I think it is a good day,” he explains. “I got beaten up sometimes once every two or three weeks, unlike other kids who got beaten up every day.”

The Psychological War

Over the years, his classmates started to make fun of his appearance. When he was a teenager, he packed on an enormous amount of weight, and bloated up to 139 kilograms. That led to shameful nicknames like “fat boy” and “Kung Fu Panda,” and episodes where common ruffians would embarrass him.

Thani remembers one such episode.

“Since I was fat, it’s like I had a woman’s chest,” he says, chuckling in disbelief. “I did not have a man’s chest, so people made fun of that. They said you can get strawberry milk on the left, and chocolate milk on the right.

“Those things are the main ways they verbally abused me in school, and if I said something back, they pinched my chest and ran away.”

He laughs about it now, but at the time, the bullying and abuse tore the emotional teen apart. He could handle the physical beatdowns, but the psychological torment and the constant embarrassment was something he had immense difficulty dealing with.

“That type of bullying happened 90 percent of the time,” he admits. “I used to cry sometimes. Like, ‘Why would people say these things to me?’ because this happened for a long time. People always just made fun of me.”

At one point, he confided in his father, and poured out his grievances. The young “Alligator” wanted some advice, but all he got was an earful.

“The first time I complained to my dad about the verbal abuse, my dad said ‘The next time you come back with this problem, I will slap you in the face, because you do not know how to handle your problems. But if it gets out of hand, I will help,’” Thani recalls. “So I did not go back to him with that problem anymore.”

Martial Arts Conquers All

Eventually, the verbal abuse waned.

Thani, who was hooked on martial arts movies like “SPL: Sha Po Lang “featuring Donnie Yen, started training at Monarchy MMA when he was 16. He lost 6kg in his first two months of training, and soon his newfound confidence borne through martial arts began to shine through. He started to stand up for himself, and when the bullies no longer saw an easy target, they began to leave him alone.

A short year later, he was completely focused on his martial arts journey, and blocked out whatever little noise was left. Following graduation, he was virtually unrecognizable to the demons of his past.

He transformed into a welterweight martial arts phenom who worked at the gym full-time, and was far from the chubby child who used to get made fun of. In fact, he was a strapping young man with elite martial arts skills, along with the courage and wisdom to use them wisely.

However, despite all the physical and psychological abuse Thani endured, it never once broke his spirit. The Malaysian hero still possesses the same cheerful demeanor he has always had.

Along the way, he amassed a perfect amateur martial arts record, claimed the MIMMA Welterweight Championship, and won his first seven professional martial arts bouts, all by way of spectacular stoppage.

Ultimately, that hard work paved the way for him to challenge ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren for the coveted title in May 2017. While Thani was able get the title opportunity, he was unable to capitalize on it. His self-confidence was shook, and that led to the first, and only, blemish of his career.

“I was on an emotional rollercoaster,” the young athlete admits. “When I saw Askren, I was starstruck. I was compete against someone who is one of the greatest in the world, and I did not believe in myself as much as I should have.”

Despite losing, Thani was motivated to get back to work and “ride that horse again.” He immediately went to Temecula, California, to train with the world-class Team Quest, and then returned to his winning ways back home in Kuala Lumpur, where he scored a unanimous decision victory over Egypt’s Sherif Mohamed this past August.

A True Role Model

Thani has persevered through life’s most heartbreaking circumstances, including a broken family, bullying, childhood obesity, verbal abuse, and abandonment. He has not let these obstacles hold him back, and he even used them as fuel to erase his weaknesses. 

Even through the misfortunes, he has maintained a friendly outlook and positive mindset.

“I try not to cause problems for people,” he says. “I feel the fewer problems I cause for people, the happier people will be around me, so I just did my stuff and eventually it turned out to be okay.

“If I try to make everyone around me as happy as possible, things just fall into place.”

So far, it is working. He has become a true role model for Malaysian youth, and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) even paid homage to him and his accomplishments days following his failed title bid. In fact, they co-funded part of his training camp to California.

Apparently, that good kid from Sentul is doing very well for himself indeed.