KUALA LUMPUR: Having gone through a troubled childhood, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Saiful Merican hopes to set wayward youths on the right path.
The owner of the Merican Muay Thai gym at Solaris Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur, revealed that he had suffered heartbreak and faced adversities.
Saiful, known in the MMA world as the Vampire, said he tries to get angry youths off the streets by inviting them to join his MMA gym.
“I was a naughty boy growing up but martial arts, which is very much about self discipline, has made me a better person.
“I used to have anger issues and when I see kids who have that problem and become very aggressive or bullies in school, it makes me want to help them.”
The 29-year-old Saiful, who hails from Terengganu, gave up fighting twice in his 19-year career — in 2004 and in 2008 — after two tragic incidences.
In 2004, Saiful’s younger brother died after he was struck by a car. That led to his life spinning out of control as he was consumed by despair.
“My life became so messed up. I was heading nowhere. But luckily my uncle, who is the owner of Redang Mutiara Resort, made me the way I am today.
“I still remember what he said to me... why do you want to waste your talent or let your life go to waste? You should just start fighting again.”
The second blow to Saiful came in 2008 when his father, Rusli, passed away.
His father, who was an avid football fan, had wanted Saiful to become a footballer. However, he was least interested in the world’s most popular sport.
When Saiful received an invitation for his first ever overseas fight in the World Muay Thai championship, he thought long and hard about it.
“I was not sure whether I should go and compete because my father’s wish was for me to be a footballer,” he recalled.
Saiful admitted that since he learned Muay Thai before he played football, the way he kicked the ball was similar to him kicking people in fights.
Eventually, his passion for MMA led Saiful, who had appeared in the Malay movie, “J Revolusi” to open his own MMA gym.
Now, he has noble plans — having Muay Thai camps in a big way to keep youngsters away from bad influences that could lead them to becoming criminals.
“My wish is to establish a camp where I can take care of the kids but I can’t do it now because I’m not a millionaire.
“It (the project) will take time to grow. The aim is to put them in the camp, train them and if they want to be trainers, I will give them jobs.
“Whatever it is, I want to get them far away from drugs and other bad things.”
Saiful, who also plans to set up a second MMA gym in Glasgow, Scotland next year, wants to give opportunities to youths to be professional fighters under the One Championship franchise.
“The kids who you see on the news... they are troubled by things like a divorce in their family and other social problems. That’s the kind of kids that you want to help.”
Stressing how an MMA career can improve lives, Saiful said: “If I wasn’t a fighter, I don’t think I would get to travel two or three times a week and experience other countries’ cultures.
“And this is the sort of experience I want these kids to have.”
Saiful, a flyweight fighter, hopes to change Malaysian women’s perception of Muay Thai.
“When I opened my gym about seven years ago, you could easily count the number of gyms because the sport wasn’t big then. So, people didn’t know about it.
“And many women were scared to join because they think it’s violent. It takes time to do the promotion, seminars, and other things to break that perception.”
As Saiful recovers from a broken hand and elbow from his last fight, with China sensation Chen Lei back in August, he looks forward to be part of the fight in Kuala Lumpur in March, next year.
Saiful is itching for a rematch against the 28-year-old Chen.
“I’m planning to fight but I don’t know yet but I think it’s in March, next year. It depends on my hand.”
On his earlier loss to Chen, Saiful said: “My hand was already broken then, so I couldn’t perform well.
“I’m not trying to belittle his (Chen) skills but he’s not that good. I couldn’t hold him properly then.”
As Saiful looks forward to his return to the cage by competing in the much awaited One franchise fight in Kuala Lumpur, he will focus on running his “family-styled” gym alongside his wife, Dzianti and his two sons, Tarief and Ariez.