Boxing his way to the top

Fadhil Yunus

Brunei Darussalam boxing talent Muhammad ‘Irfan bin Haji Abdul Razak is looking to carve a niche for himself and the country on the global stage following the recent announcement that he has signed with renowned American trainer Jeff Mayweather from the Mayweather boxing family.

With Mayweather taking him under his wing, plans are in the pipeline to commence a training programme in charting a path to making his professional debut.

Having established a working relationship with Mayweather, a former professional boxer himself, the move represents a major boost for Muhammad ‘Irfan of being a professional boxer and putting Bruneian boxing on the map.

In 2017, Muhammad ‘Irfan burst onto the regional scene when he captured the gold medal in the Davao City Boxing Tournament in Davao City, Philippines. The Brunei boxer, who performed under 018 MMA Academy’s banner, defeated Armando Bohol by way of TKO in round one of the light heavyweight class (76-80kg) final. His gold medal success in southern Philippines laid the foundation to help the country’s talents gain global acceptance and recognition in boxing.

He said at the time, “One of my main goals is to put Brunei on the map of boxing. Officially or unofficially, I will keep fighting to represent my country until we get recognised as a country that can produce top-notch boxers.”

Before signing with his new trainer and promoter Marcus Callahan of MCB International, Mayweather and his team were looking to unearth new talents outside of the United States (US).

They took notice of Muhammad ‘Irfan and, sure enough, a partnership was struck following a conversation between him and other managers. The newfound partnership also bodes well for his immediate ambition of making Brunei recognised as a country that is capable of producing championship calibre fighters.

“My intention right now is to elevate the name of our country. Brunei is not known to be a fighting country but all that will change once I make a statement in the boxing world,” he affirmed.

“We will be a country known to breed championship calibre fighters.” Before being introduced to boxing, Muhammad ‘Irfan, whose family comes from a martial arts background, was involved in different martial arts practices.

“It was in 2016 when I felt like I needed to improve my boxing because at that time I was a competitive kickboxer and was struggling with my punching fundamentals, so to speak,” he said.

“That’s how I found coach Haji Abu Bakar, one of Brunei’s well known boxing coaches. He taught me how to do all the boxing fundamentals right.

“I spent so much time training with him, it opened my eyes and so it naturally happened; I focussed only on boxing ever since.” It became apparent that boxing provided an instant positive effect as it led him to be more disciplined, more focussed and determined as well as have improved self-esteem.

Muhammad ‘Irfan also shared insights to his training routine to achieve his goal of emerging victorious in the ring.

“Nowadays, I train twice a day to ensure that my mind, heart and body will be well prepared for the wars to come. I am taking it very seriously and when that bell rings, I will be looking to seek and destroy with a tactical approach.”

“My training consists of running in the morning after Subuh prayers before sunrise and then boxing training and/or conditioning in the afternoon before sunset.”

Since taking up the sport, he has ventured into a competitive career that has taken him to both the east and west of Malaysia.

“I won most of the fights but I have also lost a couple. Those losses were against formidable opponents from foreign countries and it was at heavyweight level. Though I am not a natural heavyweight, I was looking to challenge myself against bigger and heavier fighters.

“Though I did not win against the larger opponents, I did very well – more than anyone expected. I can very well say that those losses have elevated me. I’m a different fighter now thanks to that experience. My next fight will be a lighter weight class more suitable for me.”

He also spoke on the current amateur boxing scene, which is “alive and well”, thanks to the current Brunei Boxing Association. “I encourage everyone to support the local scene as we have many young and talented boxers who are motivated to make our country proud in the future. I also encourage parents to support their child’s dream to be a boxer, but it must be done with the right guidance. Send them to the local fight gyms around Brunei and I can assure you they will be guided correctly and safely.”

He considers the Mayweathers to be his role-models in boxing and his parents outside of boxing.

“In the sport of boxing my role modelsare everyone of the Mayweathers. They have taken the sport to the next level and their work ethic is unheard of. They are also very good people outside of the ring, very family oriented, always looking out for each other. Outside the sport of boxing, my role models are none other than my parents.

“Both my parents have been running businesses together and I have seen them fight through all sorts of adversities in running their businesses throughout the years. Most people would have given up but my parents are really fighters at heart, never showing signs of surrender at all.

“Today, they are running a successful business and I can see it only grow bigger in the years to come. It’s truly inspiring to see what they have achieved. To see them build something out of nothing.”

Muhammad ‘Irfan described signing with the Mayweather family as the biggest milestone in his boxing career. “I was fortunate that someone from the Mayweather team discovered me. He saw me as a talent that he believes can make it big in the world of boxing with the guidance of the Mayweathers. I’m looking forward to prove them right.” He also provided words of advice for boxing enthusiasts who are interested to take up the sport.

“If you really want to be a boxer, then you must start by seeking the right people to help you, people with experience. Because they will guide you step-by-step and will keep you on the right track. I would love to help the young to achieve their goals as a boxer,” he added.