Three battling brothers are Sarawak’s rising Muay Thai stars

Running at the crack of dawn, pummelling punching bags hung from beams and throwing punches, jabs, and kicks… these are just some of the drills three brothers go through, six days a week, as Muay Thai fighters.

Elias Ghazali Zulfikar, 19, and his siblings, Muhammad Johan Ghazali Zulfikar, 15, and Mikail Ghazali Zulfikar,12, run regularly on footpaths with their coach Addy Singpayak. Kuchingites driving around town can sometimes catch them during their 10km morning runs.

While many teenagers may spend their time lazing at home, watching music videos, or playing games, the three brothers have made personal sacrifices, including forgoing hanging out with friends, or going for holidays, because of their gruelling training schedule. It is dedication, and the love for the sport that keeps the three going.

This year, the three brothers, and another, Texas Jeremy Lo, 13, will be heading to the International Federation of Muaythai Associations’ (IFMA) Youth and Senior World Championships in Thailand, from Dec 3-14. Accompanying them will be coach Addy from Rentap Muay Thai gym. Addy has been in the Muay Thai scene for more than three decades.

Elias and Johan are no strangers to Muay Thai competitions. Elias was a gold medallist at the IFMA Asian Championships in 2019 and was also honoured with the championships’ ‘Spirit of Muaythai Special Award’, the same year.

His brother Johan, won bronze in IFMA Bangkok, in 2017 and 2018. He also won the gold medal at the IFMA Asian Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019, and is three times national champion in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Johan, who goes to SMK St Thomas, tells Twentytwo13 how he hopes to carve his name in the Muay Thai arena.

“I started ‘fighting’ when I was 10. Both my parents are Muay Thai fighters, and they introduced the sport to my brothers and me. We train twice a day, mornings and evenings, six times a week. We run, kick pads or punching bags, do Muay Thai clinch work, and spar every once in a while,” he said.

“It is difficult juggling school and training, but we have gotten used to it, and our school is very supportive and understanding, especially during competitions. To be honest, I have no life outside of Muay Thai and school. My friends are the people at the gym. I have missed out on vacations, holidays, and family gatherings because of training. But the sacrifices are worth it.”

The pandemic has also had a huge impact on their game, as they were not able to fight, and gym closures made training difficult. But Johan was glad things were slowly opening up, and that they could fight and train again.

“My parents, coach Addy, and the love for the sport, are my biggest motivation to keep me going and to strive to do better,” he said, adding that he hoped to represent Malaysia in the Olympics, and be signed by One Championship.

Indeed, the boys’ fighting spirit is fuelled by their parents’ sacrifice as well, especially their mother, Jennana Johnson. Imagine being a mother to three Muay Thai fighting boys.

Jennana said: “Muay Thai is physically demanding and tough, and I know not everyone can do it. I began fighting at the age of 16, so I know what it is like. I understand their sacrifices.”

“No doubt, Muay Thai is seen as a violent sport, but it builds confidence, character, and self-esteem. As long as the boys train hard, they will be safe in the ring, as their bodies are conditioned. Besides, I never had a problem with my boys fighting at school or anywhere else, because they are too tired to go look for fights,” she said jokingly.

Image above: (From left) Elias, Johan, Addy, Mikail and Texas. 

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