Ashraf Shafii's mixed martial arts (MMA) journey started with a chase; an excruciating, lung-busting, five-minute dash - after a loanshark runner.
It happened while he was doing his national service (NS) with the police force in 2010, and the pursuit did not end well. The suspect got away, and Ashraf was left nursing a rapidly tightening chest and a bruised ego.
Said Ashraf, who turns 25 in September: "It happened towards the end of my NS, and it was a real wake-up call. I was 10kg over my ideal weight, and struggled to pass my IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test). I needed to do something to stay in shape."
The former silat exponent, whose grandfather used to enthral him with tales of fending off attackers with martial arts, decided to take up MMA classes in 2011 to stay in shape.
The adrenaline of entering a fight, with his well-being teetering on the edge, had him instantly hooked, and he has not looked back since.
On Friday evening, Ashraf will take on Australia's Suman Mokhtarian in Rebel Fighting Championship's (RFC) second show - named Battle Royale - at Suntec City.
It is his third fight after a defeat in the Ultimate Satria Championship last March and a quick submission win on RFC's first show last December.
Ashraf, who trains out of Team SC Gym on Lavender Street, is confident he can add to that triumph on Friday by beating Mokhtarian, who won a separate bout on points at the previous RFC event.
Skilled in boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), and wrestling, the outlet manager at local cafe Simply Eden on East Coast Road has also been training four hours a day, five times a week for three months, even during the fasting month of Ramadan.
"Mokhtarian has a strong base in BJJ, and he doesn't give up easily," said Ashraf, who will be one of three local fighters in action on Friday evening alongside Syafiq Abdul Samad and May Ooi.
"We have a game plan to nullify his strengths, but I also don't want to tailor my training just for one fight. It is important to prepare for a fight rather than one person."
A self-professed student of MMA, he enjoys reading books on the subject, claiming it helps him understand "the essence of the sport". He said he will enter his featherweight bout against Mokhtarian on the 10-fight show "with a clear mind", which will help him stay "two steps ahead of his opponent".
Ashraf is also buoyed by the support of his family, who initially objected to his involvment in such a tough sport before eventually supporting his passion.
Coach Shawn Cheah is understandably confident of his protege's chances on Friday.
Said Cheah: "Ashraf reads fights well, controls the tempo, and can keep his cool in the ring. He worked and sacrificed a lot, and should do well."
The jury is still out on Ashraf, but one thing is for sure - four years on, no loanshark runner will want to meet the new lean and mean contender.
This article was first published on July 30, 2014.
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