Despite his relatively young age, ONE welterweight Agilan Thani is far too experienced to underestimate what his recently untested next opponent Yoshihiro Akiyama will bring to the table when they square off at ONE: Legendary Quest in Shanghai on June 15.
The Japanese-Korean star is a former judo world champion who’s fought at the elite levels of martial arts across the globe for over a decade.
But Akiyama, now 43-years-old, hasn’t stepped inside the combat arena in almost four years, leaving some question marks surrounding his ability to still perform at the highest level.
As far as Thani is concerned, class is permanent and form is temporary, and he’s expecting to take on the very best version of Akiyama, who’s 20 years his senior.
And given Akiyama’s eternally chiseled physique, which seems almost untouched by time, why wouldn’t he?
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be very strong because he looks pretty ripped and when you get old you have a lot of strength with you,” said Thani.
“I’m not sure what else he can bring to the table after a five-year layoff, I’m just expecting a crazy Akiyama.”
The proud Malaysian has established himself as a fixture at the top of the division through his four years with burgeoning Asia-based promotion ONE Championship.
Taking the scene by storm with a six-bout win streak, the grappling specialist left a trail of predominantly submission victims in his wake as he bolted to title contention.
Thani came up short in both title bouts against Ben Askren and Zebaztian Kadestam, but left a lasting impression for a martial artist who’s still only in his early 20s. The best is yet to come for the Monarchy MMA product, and he dismisses any suggestion of pressure given two recent losses.
The 23-year-old believes competing outside of his native Kuala Lumpur will be reinvigorating and will allow him to clear his mind of the weight that comes with competing on home soil.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure. My last two fights were in my hometown and I lost both in front of my hometown people. Basically that’s taken the pressure off me already cos there’s no expectation on me. Fighting in another country takes a bit of pressure off me and I can just go out and enjoy myself,” said Thani.
In other action at the Baoshan Arena, Stamp Fairtex and Alma Juniku clash with the ONE Atomweight Muay Thai World Championship on the line, and local hero Zhang Chenglong squares off with Australia’s Tyler Hardcastle in a bantamweight kickboxing duel.