Before Muhammad Aiman could embark on his martial arts journey, he first had to overcome a significant obstacle – his mother.
The “Jungle Cat” was 18 years of age and had just discovered the sport of mixed martial arts after discovering it on YouTube.
He practised rudimentary techniques from watching online videos, then decided to compete for fun in local amateur promotion Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA).
His early successes convinced him to turn pro and chase his dream of a world title, but he had to suffer the wrath of his mother after she learned of his career choice.
“At first, she was not a big fan,” the 23-year-old recalls.
“Every mom wants their kids to go to college, and do normal stuff, like work in an office or be a doctor. For my mom, her son was fighting in a cage – that was not really easy to accept.
“She did not know about my first fight or my second fight, but she found out about my third fight. Me and my mom did not talk that much, but I was in the city, and I kind of forgot to tell her.
“So one day, it just came out, and then she yelled, like, ‘Why didn’t you ever tell me?’ She got angry, but then she was cool with it. I know she did not like it, because as soon as I finished my first season [with MIMMA], she immediately said, ‘You need to go to college.’”
In an attempt to placate his mother, he enrolled in college while still progressing his mixed martial arts training.
But he soon grew disillusioned with student life and after being inspired by his striking coach, ONE Championship star Ev “E.T.” Ting, he decided to take the plunge and go full-time in his quest for glory.
“I was really struggling in college. I finished one semester, and I was an hour away from where I was training, so I was going back and forth. Really, I was just busy the whole day,” he explains.
“I met Ev Ting, and after seeing him, it kind of helped and made me realise I could be a professional fighter, too. He is one of the biggest reasons I became a professional fighter, to be honest.
“We trained together [at Klinch MMA], and I thought I was not cut out for college. I did not know what to do. He told me the story about how he did not go to college, and instead trained to become a professional fighter.
“It made me realise I could do the same thing. He made me realise I could be a professional fighter for a career.”
Aiman then faced the awkward position of telling his mother that he’d decided to turn his back on education in favour of his martial arts career. Thankfully, she accepted, albeit reluctantly.
“She accepted it, but I still do not think she is a big fan of it,” the Malaysian laughs.
“She comes to all of my fights, but she still gets really nervous for all of them. She is a tough woman, and sometimes when she says she is nervous, I think she just says that because that is the thing to say. I do not think she is really nervous.”
Now Aiman’s mother is an integral part of his team, having taken on a managerial role in his career. He says he’s grateful and happy to have his mother’s backing.
“I did not think about it back then, but now I realise it is really important that she accepted my decision and supports me,” he says.
“She has even helped me. I am really glad she is in my corner, and she accepted it. She even found me sponsorships to help get me money. She is the best.
“I feel like she is the best manager I have ever had, but I am not sure if I am going to have to start paying her now.”
Aiman takes on “Rock Man” Chen Lei in Shanghai at ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON on 8 September, and victory over the undefeated Chinese star will not only further vindicate his decision to chase his dream, it will also move him one step closer to a shot at ONE Championship gold.