Boxer Ridhwan turns professional
Inspired by shooting victim Knowles, Ridhwan hopes career will take off in the Philippines
He has taken plenty of punches in the ring over the years.
But national boxer Ridhwan Ahmad's failure to win a gold medal at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil in June almost turned out to be the ultimate knockout blow.
The 27-year-old was so disappointed with his defeat by Thailand's Tanes Ongjunta in the semi-finals - which consigned him to a third consecutive SEA Games bronze medal - that he contemplated hanging up his gloves and taking up coaching.
But, after going overseas to do some soul-searching, Ridhwan realised he couldn't walk away from competitive boxing.
In fact, he has now made the decision to try and turn professional.
In the wee hours of this morning, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate packed his bags and set off for Cebu, Philippines, to take his first steps into professional boxing.
"The plan was to win gold at the SEA Games and, obviously, that didn't happen," Ridhwan told The New Paper in an interview at his Legends Fight Sport gym on Thursday.
"I can't put into words how disappointed I was, but I told myself I had to pick myself up.
"So about a month after the SEA Games, I went to Pattaya to train for a month, to see if I still want to compete or go into full-time coaching.
"Away from everyone, staying alone... I realised I wanted to keep on boxing."
Upon his return from Thailand in July, Ridhwan was offered the chance to go on an 11-week long coaching course at the University of Physical Education in Budapest, Hungary, under the International Olympic Committee's Olympic Solidarity Scholarship.
Ridhwan's resolve to continue boxing was strengthened in Budapest when he met Valentino Knowles, once the Bahamas' top boxer, who was a course mate.
"I watched him competing five years ago at the Commonwealth Games, so I was surprised to see him there," said Ridhwan.
"It turned out that he got shot five times in a shooting incident in the Bahamas, so he couldn't compete anymore.
"He fought twice as a pro and was on the verge of being something. He had trained in Cuba a few times.
"One day, I accidentally let slip and said, 'I don't feel like going to the gym today'.
"He just looked at me and said, 'Man, you don't know what I would give to be able to go back to the gym'.
"So I realised there are people out there who want to do this (compete) but cannot. So I should," said Ridhwan.
Ridhwan had first thought about turning pro about two years ago. But he wanted to have a go at trying to win Singapore's first SEA Games boxing gold since 1985 (Mohammed Mukhlis Amat), and to represent Singapore at the Olympics.
His failure in June, however, convinced him he should make way for others to fly the Singapore flag in amateur competitions.
Through contacts, the Sugar Ray Leonard fan got in touch with Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, a Cebu-based boxing promoter and manager who has been monikered the "Godfather of Philippine boxing".
Aldeguer is the creator of Pinoy Pride, the Philippines' top boxing event which has since been held internationally in the United States and Dubai, and the 35th edition of the show is slated for Feb 27 next year.
Ridhwan will be given two "trial" fights - next Sunday and three days later.
If he impresses Aldeguer, he will take part in his first professional fight on the undercard of Pinoy Pride 35.
If he turns professional, Ridhwan will no longer be allowed to compete in amateur competitions such as the SEA Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympics.
But he is adamant to leave that all behind and carve out a name for himself on the professional circuit.
"My aim is to be the first professional boxer from Singapore who can make a significant mark at least on the Asian scene, and help grow our local one," he said. "I want to have at least 10 fights, win them all and, hopefully, get the opportunity to fight for a regional title.
"I also hope I get the chance to fight in the undercard of a major boxing event... that would be a huge thing."
He did not disclose how much he would earn as a pro boxer, but previous reports listed another local fighter, Nor Rizan, earning about $1,500 per fight.
Said Ridhwan: "To be honest, it will still be a struggle as I'm not going to earn big bucks. But, like I said, I see it as an opportunity to do more that will translate into something for the local business.
"If it was about money, I wouldn't even do it at all. I just love the sport and I know, deep down, I can do something."
Amateur v pro boxing: The lowdown
Amateur boxers must wear a singlet. Professional boxers wear only trunks and fight bare chested.
Amateur boxing matches last three rounds, with each lasting three minutes.
Pro fights have a minimum of four, and a maximum of 12 rounds.
In amateur boxing, the idea is to win on points by landing more clear legal punches, and knock-downs or winning a round, do not count for anything.
You could win a match even after losing two out of three rounds on points, if you dominate the third.
In professional matches, the more dominant fighter, which can be judged by knock-downs, or injuring the opponent, gets 10 points at the end of the round and the loser, nine. The scores are accumulated at the end of the match.
- STANDING-EIGHT COUNT
In amateur boxing, the referee allows a boxer time to recover from a heavy blow, called the standing-eight count.
After three in one round or four in total, the bout is stopped.
There is no such thing in pro boxing.
A boxer is awarded a Technical Knockout (TKO) win in amateur boxing, when his opponent has excessive bleeding or swelling.
Referees are usually stricter at implementing this call in amateur bouts.
In a professional match, a TKO usually happens only when the injured boxer is unable to continue.
Only an estimated one per cent of amateur bouts end in knockouts, compared to about 25 per cent in pro fights.
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ