SINGAPORE — Their disparate sporting journeys in mixed martial arts (MMA) may not have initially included representing their nation at the SEA Games, but both Garie Tang and Nazri Sutari are now eager to return from the upcoming Games in the Philippines with gold medals around their necks.
The two Singaporean athletes will be competing in the obscure combat sport of sambo, a type of martial art developed by the Soviet Union army in the 1920s. The sport is being competed for the first time at the biennial Games.
And because their MMA backgrounds exposed them to various kinds of martial arts and combat training, the duo are able to adapt what they have trained into competitive sambo.
“My wrestling coach Sulaiman Yusof was trained in sambo, and so we dabbled in a bit of the sport during our training,” said Nazri, 29.
“Then earlier this year, about four weeks before the sambo qualifiers for the SEA Games, the Wrestling Federation of Singapore invited me and my Impact colleagues to take part in the event. And if we managed to medal in the qualifiers, we would be guaranteed a place in the Games.
“And, even though I fought in the heavyweight division (82kg) with a height disadvantage at 1.67m, I managed to get a silver medal at the qualifiers and make the squad.”
From fencing to MMA to sambo
Even before he took up MMA during his army days, Nazri was an up-and-coming fencer who had harboured ambitions of eventually representing Singapore at the SEA Games.
He made it into the national fencing team when he was 17, and represented Singapore at the Southeast Asia Fencing Championships in 2010. Then, he had to stop training for national service.
Since he did not compete during his NS, Nazri lost all his fencing rankings points during the two years of inactivity.
With younger fencers jostling their way into the fencing squad, it was an uphill task for him to regain his place in the national team, and he had believed his SEA Games dreams had all but disappeared – until this year.
“All these years that I’ve kind of given up on my dream of going to the SEA Games, and suddenly I am given this chance,” he told Yahoo News Singapore.
Exclusive training stint for Garie Tang
Like Nazri, Tang had also picked up MMA during his army days, and eventually turned professional in 2011. The 29-year-old now has a professional fighting record of four wins and a loss.
Similarly, he earned a SEA Games spot in sambo after medalling at the Wrestling Federation of Singapore qualifiers.
He was also given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as the recipient of the Ultimate Fighting Championship Training Scholarship to train for four weeks across September and October at UFC’s new performance institute in Shanghai.
“Training with the top guys in China almost daily, your skills are definitely sharpened. I can understand better how to train and recover up to the require standards to be successful in the sport,” he told Yahoo News Singapore.
“The training stint has motivated me to train a lot harder in the last few months, and I think with the knowledge and training that I got in Shanghai, I’m feeling quite positive for the SEA Games.”
Tang was the second recipient of the scholarship after Indonesia’s Linda Darrow in 2018, and the first to train in Shanghai.
While he was very impressed by the state-of-the-art facilities at the performance institute, he returned with a crucial takeaway: the recovery process after training.
“Recovery should always be factored in a training schedule,” he explained. “If you recover well, especially after being a little banged up after a tough session, then you can train better the next time. And if you keep at it, in the long run, you will feel the positive effects on your training capabilities.”
Making the best of their SEA Games chances
Indeed for Nazri and Tang, their persistence and passion in their sporting endeavours have been rewarded with opportunities for medal glory at the SEA Games. And while they are still surprised at their good fortunes, they are eager to make the best of their opportunities.
“I’m still like pinching myself and wondering, ‘Sure or not?’ ” Nazri said with a laugh.
“I still feel a little sceptical whether this is happening or not, and I guess I’ll find out when I reach Manila and compete. And when I’m there, I want the gold medal, for sure.”