From delivering pizzas to battling injuries, Singapore’s 1st MMA fighter chips away in journey to the top

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Cook, cafe server, pizza delivery boy, security guard and mixed martial arts (MMA) athlete. What do these occupations have in common?

Radeem Rahman has worked them all – some even simultaneously – although these days, he’s fully focused on being Singapore’s first MMA professional, preparing for his second appearance in Asia’s largest promotion One Fighting Championship.

The 26-year-old will have you know, however, that his is a status borne of humble beginnings.

Fresh out of National Service, Radeem, already a keen fight-sport fan from watching DVDs and learning taekwondo and boxing in his younger days, set his sights on training at the hugely popular Evolve MMA gym. A one-year membership would set him back by over S$3,000 and the ITE graduate was unwilling to ask his parents for help, what with his three younger siblings still schooling and his father’s modest salary as a warehouse assistant.

So he took up several odd jobs over a four-month spell to raise the money, working for restaurants during the day and taking 12-hour night shifts as a factory watchman. “I was getting very little sleep as the night shift ended at 9am and I had to report for work at 11am next. I only had one day off a week, but I was determined to save up,Radeem told Yahoo Singapore on Wednesday at a media session held at Evolve.

And save up he did, to walk through Evolve’s doors and eventually earn a spot on the Evolve Fight Team of full-time fighters.

The opportunity arose in 2010 when Radeem, then employed as a technical assistant in a primary school, was coming to the end of his one-year membership. He quietly fretted over his next course of action, but Chatri Sityodtong, Evolve founder, soon approached him with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I was there worrying and thinking about how to pay for the membership renewal when Chatri asked if I was keen on joining the Fight Team,” said Radeem. “It’s really an honour, man. They are all world champs and I get to go in there and train with the best. So I said ‘yes, I want to further my career definitely!’”

According to Chatri, it was his determination that made Radeem stand out from the rest. “Radeem is a P.H.D. in life – poor, hungry, and determined. I believe in PHDs. I love people who’ve overcome tremendous adversity.  It’s one thing to have fancy paper qualification; it’s another to come from nothing,” the Thai entrepreneur explained. “Radeem did not come from a privileged background. He came from a tough background and he had to fight for everything in his life.” 

“I saw a young kid who could not afford Evolve, but had the unbreakable determination to fight for his dreams. So Evolve hired him to work in operations, allowing him to train for free and chase his dream of being a professional fighter.”

And his dream took flight in the best way possible as he became the first Singaporean to enter the One FC cage back in September 2011. Radeem stepped out victorious on his debut, in front of a thrilled home crowd, and hopes were high for the local boy as he geared up for his next fight in October 2012.

To hell and back

Then, disaster struck. A dislocated little finger forced him out of the contest, and just two months later, he tore his leg ligaments in a training injury. After undergoing surgery in March last year, a shattered Radeem couldn’t do anything for the next three months beyond trying to lift the injured leg.

He started on intensive rehabilitation and physiotherapy in June, working hard to regain his strength, but it proved to be a frustrating and demoralising period of time.

“I trained so hard, and just wanted to put everything in the cage and show how much I’ve progressed, then I got injured,” said Radeem. “I did feel a little like giving up. But I saw my teammates training and then I saw them fighting in the cage and I told myself I should be there, so I kept pushing.”

His recovery ended up being faster than expected, and by October, the fighter returned to his usual regime of training six days a week. “Looking back to the time I was in rehab, and could only do light training, it’s almost unbelievable that I made it,” he said.

Radeem is now set to make his comeback at One FC’s next event in Singapore on 30 May, in a bantamweight battle against Malaysia’s Raymond Tan.

He's going to shock the world,” Chatri promised. “Radeem today is a totally different fighter than he was in 2011.

And after that? Whatever it takes to move Radeem Rahman closer to his big goal – the same one he dreamt of while washing dishes and keeping guard in the dead of the night: to be

a world champion.

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