Undefeated contender Agilan “The Alligator” Thani will attempt to take the ONE Welterweight World Championship from the hands of Ben Askren on Friday, 26 May at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, but he will not be entering the cage alone.
Thani will have the full support of his Malaysian countrymen, but one in particular will be cheering him extra hard to victory.
The 21-year-old’s biggest supporter, though reluctant at first, is his father. The elder Thani has been in his son’s corner from the very beginning, and even foot the bill for his son’s first lessons at Monarchy MMA.
Fatherly support has been a constant in Thani’s life. Raised singlehandedly by his dad, Thani grew up sharing a one bedroom apartment with two uncles and an aunt in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur.
Thani’s mother left when he was a young child, forcing him to fabricate a story about her absence early on.
“My mom ran away when I was a child, so whenever someone asks me, I tell them she went to the Olympics and never came back,” he admits. “It did not bother me at all, because I have never seen my mom’s face and never had any interactions with her, so it does not affect me in any way.”
With only one parent in the picture, Thani learned the value of independence early. By age 8, he was washing clothes, cleaning the house, and buying groceries on his own with money given to him by his father. He even held down duties in the kitchen, cooking his own meals.
Adding to the weight on the young man’s shoulders was the 6km round trip he made each day to school in the rough neighbourhood of Sentul, which resulted in constant bullying. Life as a latchkey kid could have ended differently for the welterweight challenger, but he kept himself on a straight path.
“My dad was always happy with me, because I was very independent. I learned how to do things by myself. I was a free kid, but I did not take my freedom for granted. I stayed away from bad things and did the right thing,” he states. “The only thing I did not do well was eat, because I ate a lot as a child.”
When Agilan showed an early interest in training, his father also saw some early benefits. Living in a not-so-safe area meant self-defense was a necessity. “The Alligator” also needed to shed some excess weight, having weighed as much as 139kg at one point.
However, the elder Thani didn’t care for mixed martial arts when his son wanted to pursue a career in the sport, but if it was what Agilan wanted, it was what Agilan got.
“At first, he was not so supportive, but he did everything he could. He gave me money to train, to buy gloves, and everything,” the Malaysian recalls. That does not mean he relied entirely on his father, though. His independent streak translated to the gym, as he started working there in order to pay the bills himself.
As the wins racked up, the elder Thani came around. He has since attended all of his son’s fights in their home city of Kuala Lumpur, including his ONE Championship debut. Having seen the confident young man his son has become, he could not be any prouder.
Now at a perfect 7-0, “The Alligator” looks to snag his biggest catch to date: the ONE Welterweight World Championship. And if he gets discouraged thinking about the inevitable grind that will accompany defeating the also-unbeaten Askren, he will have his father to look to for inspiration.
“I just try to look at him and think to myself, ‘If you think you are working hard, look at him, he works double, harder than you.’ It is tiring. He works long hours,” Thani says.
“Another thing I appreciate about him is his work ethic. I try to implement that into my life. Like, work with what you have, no matter what. If you do not have a shovel to dig a hole, and the only thing you have is a table spoon, you have to take that spoon and dig until you make that hole.”