SINGAPORE - It had been nearly three years since he stepped into the ring, and it took a while for Radeem Rahman to realise he was in a professional fight.
Thanks partly to his entourage of friends standing close to the ring side, he woke up just in time to defeat Raymond Tan of Malaysia in their One Fighting Championship (One FC) battle at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last night.
The 26-year-old Singaporean clinched victory when the referee stopped the fight with 2min 20sec left in the second round, after Radeem had hurt Tan with some hard blows. The chants from his friends didn't just motivate Radeem - it also got the crowd going.
"Radeem! Radeem!" cheered the 12,000-strong crowd in the arena, initiated by his 20-strong group of friends.
"When they cheered my name, that woke me up more than anything; I felt the extra energy immediately," Radeem told The New Paper, after his fight.
"Those guys (at ringside) were great. They were a mix of friends and students at (mixed martial arts gym) Evolve, where I'm from.
"When I was taking hits in the first round, I was still getting used to everything. (Tan) was going all out, and then I realised, 'hey, this isn't training, this is for real'."
There were nine fights for the event billed as ONE FC: Honour and Glory, with the final bout the main event featuring the United States' Ben Askren and Bakhtiyar Abbasov of Azerbaijan in a welterweight contest.
It did not start well for Team Singapore last night.
In the first bout, bantamweight fighter Stephen Langdown was eliminated within minutes by American Casey Suire, who forced a submission with a rear naked choke.
Radeem was the next Singaporean hope when he walked out for the third fight, and it looked as if he would head down the same road against the 1.8m tall Tan, who unleashed a series of kicks to his opponent's upper body.
The Singapore fighter survived, and finally settled in Round 2 of the three-round contest.
Radeem, who was 10cm shorter than his opponent, pinned Tan down early and landed elbows to his head.
A flurry of punches compelled the referee to stop the match, much to the delight of the partisan crowd.
"Maybe, he thought he had me, but I showed everyone I wasn't a one-dimensional fighter, that I'm not just a striker (boxer) any more," said Radeem, who last fought in September 2011 and is now 2-0 in his One FC career.
The first local MMA fighter to turn professional in 2011, his career has been beset by injuries.
He suffered a dislocated finger while preparing for a fight in 2012, and then underwent surgery for an ACL injury in March last year. It kept him out of action for five months.
"When I first started training after surgery last October, my treadmill speed was just 0.5km/h. I remember wanting to cry," said the fighter, who picked up Muay Thai when he was 17 years old. "That's why I'm really grateful to Evolve; they motivated me and really helped me with my rehab.
"I was hungry to show everyone that I'm not done as a fighter, despite all my injuries."
In the night's main event, American Askren, a former Olympic wrestler, defeated Azerbaijan's Bakhtiyar Abbasov by submission in the first round.