Malaysian welterweight contender Agilan “The Alligator” Thani was surprised to learn that he has been drawn to welcome Japanese-Korean mixed martial arts veteran Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama to the ONE Championship stage.
The two square off at ONE: LEGENDARY QUEST on Saturday, 15 June at the Baoshan Arena in Shanghai, China.
At first, Thani questioned the decision, given that he has been on a downslide as of late, losing his last two bouts.
Eventually, the 23-year-old then found inner peace and a sense of direction and put faith in himself. The former title contender wasted no time and began to prepare himself for the task at hand.
“Something that I learned throughout my time off and throughout the times that I lost is that my opinion is the most important opinion,” Thani said. “If I keep asking everybody’s opinion, they’re gonna say, ‘Oh, you’re not ready, you’re not going to do this, you’re not going to beat Akiyama.”
“I wake up every morning, and I just tell myself, ‘Hey look, I’m gonna beat Akiyama, and that’s the deal you made.’ I’m making the deal to myself every day saying, ‘If I don’t beat this guy, at least I’m going to give him a fight. I gotta keep saying to myself that I’m going to beat Akiyama, and if I don’t, I’ll try again,’” Thani added.
A 15-year veteran with 20 bouts under his belt, Akiyama has been all over the globe competing against the best athletes. The world-class Judoka has been known to give his all in every match he’s in, earning the respect of his opponents and the adoration of fans.
Thani, learning from past mistakes, knows that he needs to approach his bout against “Sexyama” as the most important one of his young career.
The young Malaysian is fully aware of what Akiyama brings to the table.
“He’s very athletic and very strong, that’s for sure. He has the Japanese mentality – like a go-to-war kind of mentality,” Thani said. “I think he has a lot of strengths. His experience is number one because of fighting so many high-level guys for a very long period of time. He’s not afraid to stand up or get taken down. His judo will be the key in this match, but I believe my BJJ grappling is better.”
A win over a big name like Akiyama will only be good for Thani’s confidence as he tries to pick himself up from this recent slump.
“I look at it as a decision or submission [for me]. I don’t want to think of anything fancy and strategic, but if it comes down to one situation, I’d love to put him up against the fence and finish the bout. That’s my strength,” expressed Thani.
With 12 professional matches to his name, Thani believes that age is just a number when it comes to the sport and believes that the main factor in every bout is the preparation and motivation of the athlete.
Whatever critics may say, the Malaysian star is focused on making sure that he will give both Akiyama and the fans the best performance they have ever seen.
“He’s 43 now, but he’s still much more ripped than me,” Thani quipped. “Most of the guys I fought at ONE Championship are older than me, and they’ve put in a good performance against me. I cannot underestimate him. He may be past his prime, but there might be a new motivation for him.”
“Hey Akiyama, I know you’re a sexy guy, but I hope you bring your A-game for me!” Thani concluded.