If there is one man who’s doing his best to change the Mixed Martial Arts landscape in Singapore, it’s Arvind Lalwani.
The 33-year-old has been a prominent figure in the Singapore combat scene, having competed in a myriad of disciplines for his country. A striker by trait, his latest venture saw him dive into the world of wrestling as he represented his country in the pre-SEA games. He bagged a gold medal, making history as the first Singaporean to win at an International wrestling competition.
Prior to that remarkable accomplishment, Arvind fought in NAKSU, an MMA competition that’s based in Thailand. He garnered a TKO victory in the second frame, forcing a referee’s intervention following a series of unanswered punches. The match-up was reminiscent of Fedor Emelienenko’s infamous victory over Hong Man Choi, given the massive height and size difference between the two fighters.
Since then, Arvind has competed in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu contests, and has headed the national Boxing team to date as well.
A former Heavyweight champion, “The Juggernaut” as he’s affectionately known by, made his professional boxing debut at the 2010 Mettle Games following a 6-week training camp at the world renowned 5th St. Gym in Miami, Florida. He was coached by Matt Baiamonte and Muhammed Ali’s own trainer Angelo Dundee.
Arvind has long been respected in the combat circles of Singapore, and has established a reputation of being one of the top coaches in the country. In 2011, he started his own gym, Juggernaut Fight Club, a facility that has produced some of the country’s best local fighters across all disciplines.
Quek Kim “The Hulk” Hock and Syafiq “The Slasher” Samad are two of Arvind’s indispensable assets, who have gone on to represent both gym and country at ONE Fighting Championship and the Pacific X-Treme Combat respectively.
MMASucka.com’s Thinesh John recently had the pleasure of interviewing “The Juggernaut”, who was willing to discuss his thoughts on the local MMA scene, nurturing local talents, starting the Singapore Combat Championship, and much more.
Read all about it below:
Arvind: “I don’t think there’s a perfect age for that. You’ve got to make a decision based on how ready the fighter is; like how long he’s been in the amateur circuit and what not. You can’t simply turn anyone pro. As a fighter, you’ve got to dedicate your life to being a professional athlete. In other words, it’s a full time job.Personally, I would know a fighter is ready when he has competed in the amateur leagues for a while and he’s won practically everything. If he is way too good for the amateurs, then you can proceed to turning him/her pro. It’s not about age. In Syafiq’s case, he started with me when he was 15-years-old, and started competing as an amateur about a year later. He had a whole lot of fights under his belt and he progressed well. He decided to turn pro at around 19.”
Arvind: “At the end of the day, to be a good fighter, you need to have basically 3 elements: You have to be technically gifted, you’ve got to be physically strong and most importantly, you must have heart. You can be the fittest fighter on the planet but if you don’t have heart, there’s honestly no point in doing any of this. If you want to be good, you must have a good fighting style, strength and of course, heart.You can train style and physical strength, but heart is something that can’t be taught. It has to come from within the fighter.”
Thinesh: ‘Your thoughts on judging fighters based on their professional MMA records?’
Arvind: “Most people who judge fighters based on records are those who don’t know much about fighting. He may have three wins, but seven losses on his record – but hey, he might have fought and lost against the best guys. Conversely, you may have someone who’s like 10-0 and for all you know, this guy may have fought against guys with little or perhaps, no experience(s) at all. But sometimes, when you want to build guys up, this is what you’ll do.
It’s very superficial to judge guys simply on their fight records.”
Thinesh: ‘Tell me your thoughts on the MMA scene in Singapore right now. What do you think should be done to improve the landscape?’
Arvind: “I believe first of all, you’ve got to start from the grassroots level. A lot of the guys over here, well, they don’t have the avenue to fight or start as an amateur. In the United States, when you fight as an amateur, you can have about 4-5 fights before proceeding to the pros. That’s how it’s done in those parts.
Here, you’ve got guys with no amateur MMA experience whatsoever and they go straight into the professional leagues. This is, needless to say, really wrong.
So yeah, start at the grassroots level, have a good amateur MMA league, have everybody come together and build the sport from there. It’s how I think we can improve the landscape as it is right now.
In reality, you’ve got really good fighters out there in Singapore right now but it’s just that they aren’t getting any opportunities. In my opinion, the chances are being given to the wrong people.”
Thinesh: ‘Why do you think Singapore isn’t putting any focus on MMA? How can this situation change?’
Arvind: “When it comes to Martial Arts, it’s about two people getting beat up, so why would they support that? Most of them don’t get it. They view the whole thing as a blood sport or something.
So it all boils down to mentality. They don’t have that ‘fight mentality.’ In the US or Europe, they have the fighting mentality, and they’ve got heroes over there to look up to whether it’s MMA or Boxing.
Over here, we don’t have that ‘stand-out fighter’… yet. MMA is at its infancy right now. We’re still at the progressive stage in these parts, where people are just starting to know about it. As with competitions, media coverage and more, people will start to get into the sport more. It just depends on how long it’s going to take. Hopefully in the next five years or so, the UFC will have like 3 shows in Singapore. And you may very well see Singaporean fighters in the UFC by then.”
Thinesh: ‘You’ve come a long way since the launch of Juggernaut Fight Club. Can you tell us how JFC has contributed towards nurturing local MMA talents?’
Arvind: “As you know, we have produced guys like Kim Hock and Syafiq. Back then, nobody wanted to jump into doing this whole ‘MMA career’ thing. I think it’s because of the lack of good training partners, good trainers and all that.
Now, Singaporeans know that we can produce guys like Syafiq and Kim Hock and you can see that they want to get into it as well – knowing that we’re the right guys to train with. It’s no secret that people look up to Syafiq as a role model, having witnessed the fact that he’s a 20-year-old student winning fights overseas. People are going like, ‘I want to be like him.’ He’s got a pretty good back-story too about why he got into Martial Arts, so that helps.
And that’s how Juggernaut Fight Club has come about; you know, putting it out there that we have the know-how to produce local fighters who can fight and bring in results at the same time.”
Thinesh: ‘Comment on the fighters you have managed thus far. As a coach, how did you help/nurture them?’
Arvind: “In terms of the MMA aspect, the first two we’ve nurtured would obviously be Syafiq and Kim Hock.
All of these guys had a back-story when they first came to the gym. I saw potential in them as they progressed.
Did they want to be fighters immediately? No.
Kim Hock was big and fat when he first came and he weighed in around 90kg/198-lbs. His goal was to lose weight. But as he was training, he picked up techniques and such really easily and you could see when he was sparring and all, he was doing really well with the guys. So I decided to give him a goal: Since he was interested in fighting, I told him to get to a specific weight, to train hard, and then we’ll let him start fighting.
As for Syafiq, well, we all know his back-story. He came into the gym because he got slashed, so he wanted to learn some self defense. I remember putting him in Boxing and he got beat up so badly during a sparring session that he was bleeding from the nose. And after that, believe it or not, he came up to me and asked if he could do it again. I took him under my wing, got him into Boxing, Muay Thai, and other disciplines as well. When he was ready after doing well in the amateur leagues, he decided to turn pro.
As a coach, I’ve been here long enough to know who can be fighters and who can’t. There’s a difference. You have those that get beat up in a ring, who later decide they don’t ever want to do it again. And then you have those who despite the beating are still willing to try again and go a step further. Then you know if a fighter has heart, or not. As mentioned before, heart is something that has to come from within.”
Thinesh: ‘How do you get fighters to fight in promotions? Especially if they’ve just started their careers?’
Arvind: “That, basically, comes from all the years of build-up. I’ve met with people all-around and I’ve established good relationships with them. Then, it comes down to negotiations and talks with the promoters – about getting the right fights, and making sure the fighter(s) aren’t over-matched or anything.
For me, personally, it isn’t about the money. It is about matching guys accordingly especially if its their first fight. Win, lose or draw at least the debuting fighters would know how it feels like. If they give good fights, the promoters would know that this gym has good fighters and they’d be more willing to work with them in the future.”
Thinesh: ‘What do you think are the differences between Asian and North American fighters? I mean it’s no secret that North Americans are doing better in the sport but why? Is it because of better gyms, money, etc.?
Arvind: “I believe that the Japanese and South-Korean fighters are already doing well in the big promotions.
In Singapore, for an example, it’s different. Parents are always telling their kids to do this, and to do that. If you have dreams and such, you can’t do that. But in the US, some of it is all about the environment. They grow up in bad neighborhoods and all that, so they learn how to fight to survive. They can get nurtured pretty easily in any Martial Art. For them, it’s like a full time thing.
That’s why you see guys training for years; they’ve been in the gym every-day, training twice a day, doing a job that basically supplements their training routine.
It all comes down to mentality. In the states, you have the UFC, the feeder leagues, amateur competitions popping up every week or so, providing aspiring fighters avenues to compete. But here, what do they have? We don’t even have proper amateur competitions.
So hopefully, over the next few years or so, there’ll be a trend where we can get at least 2-3 amateur competitions going on in a year? One every three months would be perfect.
It’s not that they’re better, because the Asian fighters do get it as well. It’s because of the commitment, the time put in, etc. Over there, they make time. Here, we use the time for everything else. That’s it.”
Thinesh: ‘Comment on the future of Asian fighters. Do you see them going further in the MMA industry? Can they hang and be more competitive in the bigger promotions?’
Arvind: “Of course they can. That is, if the opportunity comes.
Japan and South Korea, of course, are doing well in the MMA industry. They already have fighters who are doing really well in the big leagues. Take Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung, for instance.
You can see that the UFC is already making its way to Southeast Asia, to countries like China, and maybe Indonesia. There will be a massive influx of fighters from china, they’ve got lots of talented guys. As for Singapore, as soon as we get the grassroots levels sorted out, we can see improvements, definitely.”
Thinesh: ‘In your opinion, the most important discipline(s) for fighters?’
Arvind: “Wrestling is very important. But for me, I base it on two disciplines: Boxing and wrestling. If you know how to take the fight to the ground or keep it standing up, that’s all you need.”
Thinesh: ‘Can you comment on the inaugural Singapore Combat Championship installment which took place at the end of September?
Arvind: “We gave opportunities to local fighters. We’ve got no BJJ competitions in Singapore, so with Singapore Combat Championship, we provided a platform for BJJ fighters. And we showcased wrestling and proper Amateur MMA match-ups as well.
The goal is to have at least 3 or 4 shows a year, hopefully, starting 2014. It’ll be good for fighting enthusiasts, who no longer need to travel overseas just to get a fight. They have it now in their own home country.
For now, we’re just opening this up to the affiliate/local gyms in Singapore, but eventually, we’ll be looking to make it an international event. We could get guys to come in from countries like China, Thailand and more. And this is how we’ll grow the sport.
This won’t promote me or the other gyms, but to promote the sport in general.”