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Published: Monday June 16, 2014 MYT 10:23:00 PM
Updated: Monday June 16, 2014 MYT 10:31:15 PM

Keanu punching his way to MMA success

The 19-year-old Keanu Subba has a bright future in mixed martial arts ever since winning the featherweight title of the Malaysian Invasion MMA last year. - FAIHAN GHANI / The Star

The 19-year-old Keanu Subba has a bright future in mixed martial arts ever since winning the featherweight title of the Malaysian Invasion MMA last year. - FAIHAN GHANI / The Star

PETALING JAYA: When you’re named after Keanu Reeves – it’s hard not to draw comparisons even if you don’t share the same career choices. 

Mixed martial artist Keanu Subba seems to have inherited the broody, shy and silent type persona his namesake actor is famous for.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Keanu was in the middle of a training session at the Klinch MMA Gym in Publika when it came time for this interview.

Immediately, the 19-year-old began to show glimpses of incredible shyness and embarrassment. 

Perhaps that’s one sign that whatever success he’s achieved and adulation he’s received after his triumph in the Malaysian Invasion MMA (MIMMA) Fighting Championships last year have not gone to his head. 

And that just makes you want to root for him. 

And, as far as debuts go, Keanu’s bow at the first instalment of MIMMA has got to be one of the most explosive ones ever. 

Keanu unleashed a flurry of punches to knock out Muhd Ikram (TKO via strikes) just 29 seconds into the first round to win the featherweight title – just 20 days shy of his 18th birthday.

A year on, the Hawaii-born fighter is set to defend that title when MIMMA Season 2 culminates with the Grand Finals on Oct 25. 

Every fighter gets his or her start somewhere. And, for Keanu, his interest in MMA piqued after he began watching US reality show The Ultimate Fighter in 2005. 

But, more importantly, because he saw the then relatively unknown fighter Diego Sanchez on that show. 

Sanchez, who also hails from a wrestling background, went on to win a contract with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) after clinching the middleweight competition in the series. 

“I was watching the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and I saw Diego Sanchez fight. He’s a wrestler too and I liked the aggression he showed in his fights ... and that kind of led me into MMA,” said Keanu, who had earlier been put through his paces by his wrestling coach Matt Pellino. 

However, it was no easy feat to convince his mother Ong Siok Cheng to allow him to pursue his dream although older brother Gianni was also dabbling in the sport at that time. 

“It was tough to convince my mom at first. She is your typical Chinese mother who just worries. She kept repeating that it was a brutal sport and about how Muhammad Ali now has Parkinson’s because he was a boxer and that it was because of all the blows to the head,” he sighed. 

“It took a while for her to understand. I had to explain to her that MMA was not just about punching ... there are so many elements and styles of fighting. And that you can win by submission ... so there are fewer blows to the head.

“But now, she’s has two sons who do it and she’s 100% supportive of us.”

Besides, having Gianni fighting in ONE FC is a sweet bonus. 

So, do they trade secrets?

“Gianni and I always talk about fights. We like to analyse fights and go over the techniques used by the higher level guys and try to add those moves into our game to expand our range,” said Keanu, who also dabbled in some rugby and taekwondo during his school days. 

“Having Matt as my wrestling coach has been nothing short of amazing. 

“He’s the best in Malaysia ... no one pushes us like he does.”

He spent his early childhood in Kuala Lumpur before his family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, when he was 14. 

The family moved back to Malaysia three years later when he was 17. 

“Being back home is great because we have lots of family members here. But career-wise, the standard is not there. 

“As a fighter, you want to be able to test your skill at the highest level and that, for me, would be like Bellator (MMA) or UFC,” he confessed. 

“I want to be one of the most successful Asian fighters out there. 

“I hope to turn pro at the end of the year and get more fights under my belt. I want to go out there and prove that Malaysians can fight too.”

Tags / Keywords: mixed martial arts, Malaysian Invasion MMA, Keanu Subba, Gianni Subba, Matt Pellino

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