EVERY time Singapore boxer Muhamad Ridhwan Ahmad fights, it is almost as if he is fighting for his sport's survival in the country.
The 26-year-old is regarded as the best boxer the Republic has produced in a long while, and expectations are high that he will win on big stages like the SEA Games, just to keep boxing alive in the public eye.
"Definitely, sometimes I feel like I'm fighting all by myself. Not many in Singapore are willing to put in the hard work needed to succeed in boxing," he said.
"Right now, only people in top Asian boxing countries like the Philippines and Thailand are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to become great boxers."
While those ASEAN countries have produced Olympic champions and major stars like Manny Pacquiao, Singapore boxing has languished in the doldrums for decades, with few taking up the physically demanding sport.
Not since Cyril Jeeris in 1975 has a Singaporean claimed a boxing gold at the Games - and Ridhwan was determined to end that drought.
On Friday at the Wunna Theikdi Sports Complex, he battled valiantly, going three hard-fought rounds against the Philippines' Junel Cantacio in their lightweight (60kg) semi-final bout.
The boxers traded punches swiftly, with Ridhwan landing a couple that staggered Cantacio and left him with a bloodied nose.
But the Filipino proved a wily opponent, not averse to landing a few sneaky blows even after the referee had pulled the duo apart.
Still, the bout thrilled the crowd, which included Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, who was on the edge of his seat cheering Ridhwan on.
Had Ridhwan won, he would have guaranteed Singapore a boxing silver - the first time since 1993 that it would have happened.
However, the judges awarded the bout to Cantacio in a unanimous decision, leaving Ridhwan close to tears.
"I can't control the decisions so, yes, I'm very disappointed," he said before his voice trailed off and he struggled for a moment to compose himself.
"I gave my all in the final round. It was all or nothing, and I'm just upset I couldn't do more to get that win."
As there are no third-fourth place bouts at the Games, he earned an automatic bronze medal to add to his first bronze won at the 2011 Games.
"I don't really know where I kept that bronze," he said morosely.
"I don't really like that bronze, it means I lost before the final."
With boxing not yet included in the programme for the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, Singapore Amateur Boxing Association president Syed Abdul Kadir hopes that Ridhwan's performances - coupled with the sport's popularity in this region - can help put it back in the Games' line-up.
"We have a promising bunch of young boxers who can make the grade for 2015," he said.
"Ridhwan put up a great performance today, pity about the result. We can build on this."
In the bantamweight (56kg) semi-finals, Singapore's Muhammad Solihin Nordin also earned a bronze. His bout with Thailand's Donchai Thathi was stopped by the referee in the first round.
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