K.O... THEN GOLD

K.O... THEN GOLD
Photoshoot for a SEA Games feature involving Mohammed Mukhlis, who in 1985 became the last Singapore boxer to win a SEA Games gold medal, and Ridhwan Ahmad, the 27-year-old who is gunning to break the 30-year golden drought at this June's SEA Games.

He holds the distinction of being the last Singaporean to win a SEA Games boxing gold medal, when he triumphed in Bangkok in 1985.

Yet, one regret still rankles Mohammed Mukhlis Amat to this day.

Two years before his victory in Thailand, he found himself moments away from bagging a gold medal in front of a partisan home crowd at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

But, being a rash 19-year-old then, he fell victim to the folly of blind youth aggression.

Despite outclassing his Thai opponent Sunruay Mongson for most of the bout, Mukhlis was not content to win on points and wanted to knock his opponent out.

But, as the Singaporean southpaw went for the jugular, Sunruay delivered a blow that floored the youngster and had him out for the count.

Mukhlis' dream of winning gold on home soil went up in smoke.

"Till this day, that's one of my biggest disappointments," the 51-year-old told The New Paper in a recent interview at the Farrer Park Boxing Gym, where he spent countless hours in the '80s and '90s.

"I was young, inexperienced, and full of energy... But in the end, I was the one who got knocked out.

"That final is still so vivid to me. The home crowd at Ngee Ann Polytechnic was so passionate, and I also remember seeing my late father in the crowd during the match."

A Straits Times report in 1983 headlined "Mukhlis just minutes away from glory and gold", stated that he was "clearly ahead on points" after two rounds, only to be KO-ed by a punch to the abdomen two minutes before the bout was scheduled to end.

Mukhlis was stretchered out of the ring as Sunruay celebrated his big win.

As if the agony of defeat was not enough, Mukhlis also suffered physically long after the match.

"That KO was the worst injury I've gotten from boxing," said the physical training instructor.

"I could not walk properly for weeks after that. I would walk a while, then feel tired and a little dizzy.

"I went to doctors and they did all the scans and checks they could, but found nothing.

"Lastly, I went for a traditional Malay massage my father recommended, and that worked."

From having picked up boxing just to take part in an inter-squad competition while serving as a full-time national serviceman with the police force, boxing became his sole focus.

He put his heart and soul into fighting for redemption at the 1985 Games after that bitter 1983 defeat.

FOCUS

He even quit his job as a delivery clerk and cut down on his daily expenses, so he could spend more hours training to become a better boxer.

The sacrifices paid off.

At the 1984 Asean championship in Manila, Mukhlis won gold after dumping Filipino Ernesto Coronel and won the Flash Elorde Trophy for being the best boxer of the tournament.

In 1985, he stunned the boxing-crazy Thais by beating home favourite Tawaeet Islam on points, to finally claim a SEA Games gold medal.

"When you fight, you have to strategise, and after I watched him (Tawaeet) in his semi-final bout, I knew I could beat him," said Mukhlis.

"The bout went according to plan, but the painful lesson of 1983 was always at the back of my mind throughout, and made sure I didn't get complacent or over-confident.

"When the match ended, I was close to tears. I had put all my focus on boxing for the previous two years.

"I can still remember myself on that podium, seeing the Singapore flag raised and hearing the national anthem. I cannot describe the feeling."

After his exploits in Bangkok, Mukhlis competed at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he lost in the quarter-finals to Northern Ireland's Damien Denny. Then, because of personal reasons, Mukhlis decided to take a break from competitive boxing for five years.

He dusted off his old gloves and competed again ahead of the 1991 SEA Games in Manila.

But he never managed to reach the dizzying heights of yesteryear, managing only bronze-medal wins in Manila and in Singapore in 1993.

Mukhlis admits that, since leaving the sport, he had shied away from media interviews and even talking about his boxing exploits to strangers.

"Sometimes, when some people ask me if I'm 'Mukhlis the former boxing champion', I tell them they have the wrong person," he said shyly.

"Why? If we talk about boxing, the topic will eventually go to how I won gold in 1985.

"Then it will become as though I'm boasting about myself, right? So I prefer to keep a low profile."

After much convincing, however, Mukhlis agreed to this interview with TNP as he hopes his story can inspire Singapore's boxers to rise above themselves in June's SEA Games.

He said: "What I hope is that the fans come down to the Expo Hall and cheer on our boxers. Every supporter counts.

"In 1983, the arena I competed in was packed, and it pumped me up, and I wanted to win so badly. "That type of support will lift our guys. I guarantee it."

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