Young Muay Thai champion fears getting knocked out by lack of sponsors

Kabilan posing with his title belt and trophies.

Kenyalang Portraits

By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, Jan 15: Muay Thai boxer Kabilan Jelevan Thiagarajan may only be 19-years-old, but he already has a world title to his name.

The young Sarawakian martial artist took the Muay Thai world by storm when he beat Jason Tang for the World Kick Boxing Championship I-1 title (57kg category) at the World Muay Thai Championship in Hong Kong on Dec 3 last year.

DayakDaily caught up with him recently, where he talked about his rise as a world-class fighter and his need for financial support in order to make the country proud.


Sports Family

Kabilan, the youngest among five siblings, said before he dabbled in the physical sport of Muay Thai, he learned Taekwondo and Silambam, a weapon-based martial art from India.

“These two forms of martial arts spurred me to do Muay Thai. As I had the basics of self-defence, it made the transition easier,” said Kabilan, who is of Indian-Kayan parentage.

Kabilan with his father, Thiagarajan Ganapathy.

He revealed that sports were very much in his family’s DNA.

“My parents, my two brothers and two sisters are all active in various types of sports. My sister, Nerosha Keligit, is a national Tenpin bowler.”

World Recognition

On his win in Hong Kong, Kabilan said it was his biggest in the sport, thus far.

“It was a unanimous decision, and I was very surprised and felt ecstatic to have won as my opponent is a very experienced fighter. During the fight, I just did what I was told. I kept doing it, and at the end of the fight, the results showed.”

Kabilan in action with Tang on the ring floor in World Kick Boxing Championship I-1 title in Hong Kong. Photo Courtesy of Kabilan Thiagarajan

To qualify for the world meet at the former British colony, Kabilan had to go through three big fights in Thailand.

“I was ready, and despite only winning one of the three fights, it was enough to see me through. It was a proud moment for me as I was the one representing Malaysia at the championship.”

Patriotic Spirit

Kabilan narrated that before the big fight in Hong Kong, the organiser asked him a question that surprised him — ‘Do you have the flag of Malaysia with you?’

“I was a bit blur as my focus and thought then was on the fight itself. But thank God, I managed to get one from our embassy there. I must admit the Jalur Gemilang did fire up my patriotic spirit and my confidence.

“When I won, I was told that audience members from Malaysia were ecstatic and felt so proud when they saw the Malaysian flag flying in the arena. I was told that earlier, they did not know that a Malaysian fighter was in the ring.”

Kabilan holding the Jalur Gemilang after winning the World Kick Boxing Championship I-1 title in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Kabilan Thiagarajan.

Kabilan said the win meant everything to him. It also represented another motivation for him to train harder and “my focus now is on the next pedestal in the profession.”

He acknowledged that despite all his victories, he still has many mountains to climb in the combative sport of Muay Thai. For instance, he has to defend whatever titles he had won.

“The training, the physique, the technique and the strategy can be learned. The only thing I lack now is financial support.”

Sponsorship

According to Kabilan, he is the best fighter in his category in Borneo, but he needs sponsors and needs people to believe in him.

“I can go far in the sport. Sadly, the only financial support that I have now comes from my family. If there is nothing to help and support me in the sport, I might not really focus on it.

“At this moment, money is my main obstacle. I just need to find work to support me in the sport. If there is someone or corporate bodies out there who are willing to sponsor me, then that would be very helpful and nice.”

Kabilan (left) and his opponent, Jason Tang, for the World Kick Boxing Championship I-1 title in Hong Kong.
Kabilan posing in front of the championship poster. Photo courtesy of Kabilan Thiagarajan.

Kabilan believed that many local athletes could excel in their respective sports if they have one thing — financial support.

In the event that sponsors are not forthcoming, he reckoned he has to find some work to do to keep his dream of becoming a Muay Thai world champion alive.

“I feel that I am at a crossroads right now, whether to stay in the sport, which means finding work to support me to be a fighter, or continue with my studies. With my mediocre Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) result, if I further my studies, I might have to go and obtain vocational certification only.”

He believes he has what it takes to become a Muay Thai world champion and that there is money to be made in the sport, but the lack of financial might is muddling his vision.

The ugly side of Muay Thai

Kabilan said Muay Thai is a very physical fighting art, and its practitioners are prone to injuries. He related that in one of the invitational fights he took part in, he suffered a cut to his face, below his right eye, and it needed 10 stitches.

“It was a facial cut, and I was very worried, but as a fighter, that is the trademark. You are bound to get some sort of injury because Muay Thai is very physical. It does, somehow, teach me a lesson. At my age, I know the meaning of blood and sweat, but I am not scared as I want to achieve more in the sport.”

Optimistic Future

Kabilan is optimistic about his future and he dreams of making himself, his family and Malaysia proud one day.

He has firmly set his sights on climbing to greater heights.

He currently trains about three hours in his home gym of SS Fighters Muay Thai Gym and jogs between 12km and 14km almost daily.

Kabilan arriving at Kuching International Airport after winning the World Kick Boxing Championship I-1 title in Hong Kong. Photo Courtesy of Kabilan Thiagarajan

Kabilan’s next target is a place in Sea Games 2019 in the Philippines and a world championship in Australia.

“I know I have a chance in the Sea Games, but it all depends on the selection committee for the sport. If Sarawak wants to help their athletes excel in whatever sports, then I do hope they help me because I know I can make it a reality and not just dream of becoming a world champion in Muay Thai.” — DayakDaily