Photography: Mark Teo | Words: Jonathan Tan
In this third instalment, the Afterdark Facility documents how professional boxer Muhamad Ridhwan has had to dig deep to cope with the impact COVID-19 had on his professional boxing career and his gym, Legends Fight Sport.
Tales of the tape are often told by fight records and marked by achievements in the ring.
But such stories often overlook out the grit that’s synonymous with life as a professional boxer.
In Muhamad Ridwan’s case, the inside story behind his 15-2 record with 11 knockouts is one that takes place unnoticed in the public eye, complete with the physical emotional roller coaster that comes with training for fight night, making weight, and sacrifice in abundance.
No stranger to setbacks, Ridhwan believes that grit being consistent and disciplined.
“That despite the setbacks and obstacles, it is about having the courage to push through and work towards his goal of being a world champion, even if it seems impossible. That stubborn refusal to quit and resign myself to fate,” he shares.
Effects of a Pandemic
Had things all gone to plan, 2020 would have been a pivotal year for Ridhwan as he sought to build on his winning run in the ring. On the work front, this year would see his boxing gym, Legends Fight Sport, grow beyond its current home along Carpenter Street.
“The plan was to get back into the rankings, because we were on a winning streak after my two straight losses (in 2019). We started to win again and so we were on track to fight for the World Boxing Council (WBC) Asia title. That win would put me back among the top guys in Asia and definitely number one in Singapore.
“But because of COVID-19, that didn’t happen. The event got cancelled and there isn’t an exact date when it would happen,” shares Ridhwan.
Despite having to deal with the double whammy of having business and boxing progress grind to a halt with the future still hazy, the 32-year-old remains focused on what really matters.
“I was disappointed when it all happened. But it would have been very selfish for me to be disappointed and upset about it for too long because there are others going through tougher situations because of COVID-19. People are losing their lives, their jobs and their incomes. I decided to just focus on putting in the work to be ready for any opportunity that comes.
“My desire to compete and fight again has been re-ignited. I’m just so hungry for a chance to be back in the ring now.” he shares.
As Ridhwan stays the course in these uncertain times, this is his story.
How drastically has life changed because of COVID-19?
Previously, I could go to the gym, it was convenient to travel [overseas] and you could train with your partners and spar openly. But since the Circuit Breaker, you are stuck alone. I had to find ways to train on my own in the neighbourhood, and make sure that I keep the hunger. I just have to be self-motivated, and psych myself up without anyone else to push me and keep me going.
How did you manage during the Circuit Breaker?
I was doing online boxing personal coaching via Zoom, and I focused on developing a lot of free boxing content on my various social media channels.
For cash, I worked as a food delivery rider and a night-shift warehouse assistant. I somehow still managed to find time and strength to train and continue working on my craft.
How do you motivate yourself?
I get the motivation to do better by watching videos on YouTube to see what new things I can pick up, and then practice it. Since I couldn’t see anyone in real life, I’d watch videos of other fighters to see I can pick up from them, especially in their defense and pivoting, and try to make it my own.
How difficult was it to adapt to training alone at home?
To be honest, it wasn’t too difficult and came naturally. Boxing is a lonely sport. Whether you are at the gym or wherever you are, you can train. I’ve never been the kind who relied on others to train. I’m used to running at 3am, so this was not much of a change.
I might not have had access to facilities, but boxing is also a simple sport. You can literally box anywhere. You can’t be punching people, obviously, but you can be shadow boxing, running, and sprinting without having to be at the gym.
“Boxing is a lonely sport… Boxing is also a simple sport. You can literally box anywhere. You can’t be punching people, obviously, but you can be shadow boxing, running, and sprinting without having to be at the gym.”
“Being in the ring with my opponent gives me the opportunity to use my hands to form my own destiny. That’s what I believe in, and I hope – win, lose, or draw – that the experience in the ring can get me where I want to go.”
Despite the numerous ups and downs, what keeps you so focused and determined?
I love the sport. And I also believe in hope. Boxing is a fair sport and boxing is a way for me to make everything fair again. It does matter if I’ve been given too little or too much. Or if someone had been given an advantage to succeed. Boxing is the greatest leveler. It makes everyone the same.
Being in the ring with my opponent gives me the opportunity to use my hands to form my own destiny. That’s what I believe in, and I hope – win, lose, or draw – that the experience in the ring can get me where I want to.
Fighting is all about seeking opportunity. Have there been any positives for you?
Time. Time is a luxury that I don’t usually have because I’ve been working non-stop or overseas for training camps. The circuit breaker forced me to slow down and catch up with family. It’s been a joy to see my kid suddenly say new words and see him grow in front of my eyes.
This reminds me why I do what I do. That I want to be an example for him. That if you believe in something, you have to go for it.
Any shoutouts to your biggest cheerleaders?
Times are tough right now but let’s just keep the faith and keep on moving on. Soon we go again. When Wan goes to war, we all go to war.
Shoutout to Syazwan, Fairuz, my cornerman Glen and my coach Alexey Volodin in Kuala Lumpur who checks on me to make sure that I am mentally stable. Because of COVID-19, I’m unable to travel up to Malaysia, so my time with my coach is limited. So the bulk of the time, we communicate through text messages. I would record my training videos and share it with him and he’ll give instruction on what I can do to improve after reviewing them.
What’s next now that things are ‘opening up’?
I’d love to say that I’ll be fighting soon. To be realistic, the next event is probably in the second quarter of 2021.
But what I will say is watch out for Legends Fight Sport. We’ll be bringing the sport up by a few levels in Singapore. We were thinking of opening up in a few locations, but COVID-19 put a halt to that, so this is a great time to build awareness of that again.