ONE Championship lead commentator and Fox Sports presenter Steve Dawson takes a look at one of the hottest prospects in Asian MMA today.
Kuala Lumpur hosts another rattling ONE Championship event on 10 February. Malaysia’s capital has become a hotbed of MMA gyms and triumphant personal stories within the sport, and one of the most compelling of all will continue at the Stadium Negara.
Agilan Thani’s story has been told many times, but if you haven’t heard it before, it’s one of extreme weight loss, amateur MMA success, and stunning displays in the professional game. Every step up makes you wonder whether a ceiling will be reached, but so far the Malaysian hasn’t bumped his head.
You figured that bump may have come in his first two fights of 2016 when he met two more experienced fighters in Canadian James Kouame and American Brad Robinson, And yet, he brushed them aside in two and one rounds respectively, by rear naked choke (Kouame) and TKO by punches (Robinson).
Now 6-0, the next chapter comes against Jeff Huang (6-2) from Chinese Taipei. The two have a common opponent in Trestle Tan. Huang has fought the Filipino twice, losing on the first occasion in only nine seconds to a couple of thudding left hooks. But he turned that around by winning the rematch in 90 seconds with a pounding finish that Tan couldn’t withstand.
Thani’s battle with Tan was also over inside a round, the Malaysian winning by rear naked choke after a dominant show of strength on the canvas. And so Thani’s road to glory continues with his confidence so high, that he’s even calling out ONE welterweight champion Ben Askren.
A challenge for that belt will likely require more wins than the one he hopes to collect at ONE: THRONE OF TIGERS, but is far from unreasonable, and is another indication of how far this 21-year old has come.
Thani’s strength is probably his actual strength. He may have lost a heap of weight since taking up the sport, but he remembers how to make good use of it. He has strong legs and a thick upper body, which is combined with a rare turn of speed. His enthusiasm for competition means he’s frequently a fast starter, which immediately puts pressure on his opponents. The shape of his fights is usually determined by how they react.
Against Brad Robinson he was a relentless stalker, always looking to get on the inside and eager to make the first move. The perpetual motion continued until Robinson covered up against a barrage of blows on the deck, offering nothing in return.
Huang certainly doesn’t mind mixing it up, and what we’ll get here is a contest with very little dithering. It probably won’t go past the first five minutes, and Thani has the strength to front-load his efforts into a stoppage via ground and pound.
Steve Dawson is ONE Championship’s lead commentator, a Fox Sports presenter and an author of sporting biographies. He can be found on Twitter & Instagram as @Gulasahi and on Facebook as Steve Dawson.