K.O... Then gold
Singapore's last SEA Games boxing gold medallist Mukhlis shares his comeback story to inspire the current crop
He holds the distinction of being the last Singaporean to win a SEA Games boxing gold medal, when he triumphed in Bangkok in 1985.
Yet, one regret still rankles Mohammed Mukhlis Amat to this day.
Two years before his victory in Thailand, he found himself moments away from bagging a gold medal in front of a partisan home crowd at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
But, being a rash 19-year-old then, he fell victim to the folly of blind youth aggression.
Despite outclassing his Thai opponent Sunruay Mongson for most of the bout, Mukhlis was not content to win on points and wanted to knock his opponent out.
But, as the Singaporean southpaw went for the jugular, Sunruay delivered a blow that floored the youngster and had him out for the count.
Mukhlis' dream of winning gold on home soil went up in smoke.
"Till this day, that's one of my biggest disappointments," the 51-year-old told The New Paper in a recent interview at the Farrer Park Boxing Gym, where he spent countless hours in the '80s and '90s.
"I was young, inexperienced, and full of energy... But in the end, I was the one who got knocked out.
"That final is still so vivid to me. The home crowd at Ngee Ann Polytechnic was so passionate, and I also remember seeing my late father in the crowd during the match."
A Straits Times report in 1983 headlined "Mukhlis just minutes away from glory and gold", stated that he was "clearly ahead on points" after two rounds, only to be KO-ed by a punch to the abdomen two minutes before the bout was scheduled to end.
Mukhlis was stretchered out of the ring as Sunruay celebrated his big win.
As if the agony of defeat was not enough, Mukhlis also suffered physically long after the match.
"That KO was the worst injury I've gotten from boxing," said the physical training instructor.
"I could not walk properly for weeks after that. I would walk a while, then feel tired and a little dizzy.
"I went to doctors and they did all the scans and checks they could, but found nothing.
"Lastly, I went for a traditional Malay massage my father recommended, and that worked."
From having picked up boxing just to take part in an inter-squad competition while serving as a full-time national serviceman with the police force, boxing became his sole focus.
He put his heart and soul into fighting for redemption at the 1985 Games after that bitter 1983 defeat.
He even quit his job as a delivery clerk and cut down on his daily expenses, so he could spend more hours training to become a better boxer.
The sacrifices paid off.
At the 1984 Asean championship in Manila, Mukhlis won gold after dumping Filipino Ernesto Coronel and won the Flash Elorde Trophy for being the best boxer of the tournament.
In 1985, he stunned the boxing-crazy Thais by beating home favourite Tawaeet Islam on points, to finally claim a SEA Games gold medal.
"When you fight, you have to strategise, and after I watched him (Tawaeet) in his semi-final bout, I knew I could beat him," said Mukhlis.
"The bout went according to plan, but the painful lesson of 1983 was always at the back of my mind throughout, and made sure I didn't get complacent or over-confident.
"When the match ended, I was close to tears. I had put all my focus on boxing for the previous two years.
"I can still remember myself on that podium, seeing the Singapore flag raised and hearing the national anthem. I cannot describe the feeling."
After his exploits in Bangkok, Mukhlis competed at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he lost in the quarter-finals to Northern Ireland's Damien Denny.
Then, because of personal reasons, Mukhlis decided to take a break from competitive boxing for five years.
He dusted off his old gloves and competed again ahead of the 1991 SEA Games in Manila.
But he never managed to reach the dizzying heights of yesteryear, managing only bronze-medal wins in Manila and in Singapore in 1993.
Mukhlis admits that, since leaving the sport, he had shied away from media interviews and even talking about his boxing exploits to strangers.
"Sometimes, when some people ask me if I'm 'Mukhlis the former boxing champion', I tell them they have the wrong person," he said shyly.
"Why? If we talk about boxing, the topic will eventually go to how I won gold in 1985.
"Then it will become as though I'm boasting about myself, right? So I prefer to keep a low profile."
After much convincing, however, Mukhlis agreed to this interview with TNP as he hopes his story can inspire Singapore's boxers to rise above themselves in June's SEA Games.
He said: "What I hope is that the fans come down to the Expo Hall and cheer on our boxers. Every supporter counts.
"In 1983, the arena I competed in was packed, and it pumped me up, and I wanted to win so badly.
"That type of support will lift our guys. I guarantee it."
Mukhlis hopes to inspire boxers to glory with his comeback story
Local boxing's 30-year gold-medal drought at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games could end in June.
So says the man who won Singapore's last gold in Bangkok in 1985, Mohammed Mukhlis Amat.
The 51-year-old said the current crop have what it takes to surprise. All they need is a positive mindset.
"Our boxers today have many opportunities to train and compete overseas, something I got very little of," said the physical training instructor.
"If I was able to win the gold, I'm sure they have the potential as well. They just have to be positive.
"Sometimes, when our guys are pitted against a Thai or Filipino boxer, they become cautious because they think he is a top boxer, even if they never heard of him before. This isn't right.
"Before a fight, if you think too highly of your opponent, half the match is lost. When you enter the ring, you must feel like you are the best."
Mukhlis tips 27-year-old bantamweight fighter Ridhwan Ahmad, who has won two successive SEA Games bronze medals, as a potential gold winner.
"If you talk about skill, fitness and experience, Wan has it all," he said. "All he needs now is to believe in himself."
Self-belief is certainly something Ridhwan does not lack.
The Nanyang Polytechnic graduate, who runs the Legends Fight Sport boxing gym along North Canal Road, told The New Paper: "I hate the bronze medal.
"I really want to win the gold badly. I've never wanted to win anything as much as this.
"I've been giving my all in training, running faster, lifting heavier, going one more round when I feel like quitting, so hopefully it'll show in June.
"Train hard, fight easy, as they say."
- When: June 6-10
- Where: Singapore Expo Hall 1 (ticketed)
- On offer: 11 gold medals
- History: 4 golds, 26 silvers, 50 bronzes
- Milestones: Men's bantamweight gold, 1959 - Ow Mun Hong, Men's light flyweight gold, 1971 - Syed Abdul Kadir, Men's featherweight gold, 1973 - Cyril Jeeris, Men's welterweight gold, 1985 - Mohammed Mukhlis Amat
- The team: Men's boxers: Hanurdeen Hamid, Ridhwan Ahmad, Solihin Nordin, Leong Jun Hao, Tay Jia Wei, Zakaria Ismail Women's boxers: Ang Fen Ni, Angeline Devi Devanthiran, Efasha Kamarudin, Nur Shiren Rishyani, Leona Hui, Nurshahidah Roslie, Teo Hui Hoon
- Did you know? This SEA Games will feature female Singaporean boxers for the first time.
- The New Paper's medal prediction: Bantamweight Ridhwan Ahmad has made no secret of his desire for gold following two bronzes after consecutive semi-final defeats in 2011 and 2013. A boisterous home crowd could push him to the coveted medal. Hanurdeen Hamid and Solihin Nordin have also gained good experience since their debut SEA Games in 2013, and could medal, while youngster and Games' debutant Tay Jia Wei has been tipped to surprise.