Boxing is still having to fight for relevance and honor even up to this day in Malaysia, where other sports such as football, badminton and bowling remain the top sports in the Southeast Asian country.
However, the advent of social media meant that there is still hope and inspiration for those aspiring to take up a pair of gloves to fight for a living.
Why is Malaysia not a boxing-crazed nation?
Unlike its neighbors from the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, the combat sport scene remains a niche both in the peninsular west and the Bornean east, and honors and glory come few and far between. Which is also the primary reason why there is yet to become a world champion from Malaysia, whether it was amateur or professional.
There was only one time that Malaysian boxing gained a foothold outside Asia, when Sapok Biki won the light-flyweight gold at their home Commonwealth Games in 1998. Since then, the medal hunt has been few and far between, as they only muster six more boxing medals (all bronze) in both the Commonwealth and the Asian Games.
The low popularity is not attributed to some legal restrictions, but the crowded nature of Malaysian sports largely to be responsible for this.
Four Notable Malaysian boxers
With boxing’s low popularity, we can really count a few who are the most popular pugilists in Malaysia. Let’s look at who they are and what they achieved.
As mentioned before, he is Malaysia’s most popular boxer in both the amateur and the professional scene. The native of Sarawak delivered their first and so far, only Gold Medal outside of the Southeast Asian Games, thanks to his magical run to the top of the light-flyweight pile of the 1998 Commonwealth Games that were held in Kuala Lumpur.
The now Army major dominated in all of the three bouts that he had encountered, which was capped off by a 19-13 win over Kenya’s Moses Kinuya in the final at the Malawati Indoor Stadium.
Adnan Yusoh has been the second-fiddle to Sapok Biki in the National team setup. But in KL98, he caused a major upset in the bantamweights when he ensured a bronze by upsetting future IBO titleholder Silence Mabuza of South Africa.
However, that was the start as he took a pair of golds at the home confines of Paroi in Negeri Sembilan: first was the lightweight title at the 2001 SEA Games and the Asian Amateur title a year later.
A career soldier like Sapok, Fuad Redzuan caused a major upset in the 2017 SEA Games when he shut out highly-touted Filipino Carlo Paalam in controversial Light-flyweight battle. That did not deter the Negeri Sembilan native as he took a pair of 5-0 sweeps en route to the gold, where detractors called it a home cooking.
Aiman Abu Bakar
Arguably the most popular pro fighter to come out of Malaysia. His love for the sport started young, and the desire to turn pro came from the legendary Manny Pacquiao himself.
After a chance meeting with the Pacman, he turned to the Philippines for a guide to a life as a pro boxer, and it bore fruit, as he had a record of 10 wins (4 KOs) in his eleven fights.
In 2018, a home fight dream became a reality for Abu Bakar, as he outlasted Indonesia’s Abdi in a hairline split decision, as part of the undercard of Pacquiao’s 7th-round TKO of Lucas Mathysse in KL’s Axiata Arena.