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Sunday June 9, 2013

The highs and Lo

Optimistic: Lo believes that come next year, more people will be aware of the MIMMA and be excited to join. Optimistic: Lo believes that come next year, more people will be aware of the MIMMA and be excited to join.

MULTI-TASKER Jason Lo is heaping a lot on his plate nowadays.

Apart from managing Tune Talk, the 38-year-old Sarawakian is very much involved in the Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) Fighting Championship, the largest amateur tournament of its kind in the country.

The project is the brainchild of Lo and his longtime buddy, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, both of whom previously teamed up for the hugely successful reality football talent search show, MyTeam a few years back.

Kicking off with tryouts in Kuala Lumpur in February, the MIMMA organisers are now preparing for the exciting grand finals to be held in Stadium Negara next Saturday, where 14 fighters will slug it out to clinch their respective championship titles in seven categories.

“I’m so looking forward to the ultimate showdown. I’m so proud of the fighters. Imagine you’re going into a cage and being up against another man who is ready to beat you up to win. It takes a lot of courage and for this I have the utmost respect for these brave men.

“They’re really like gladiators entering a colosseum,” he told The Star in Kuching recently.

Lo was genuinely enthusiastic despite the possibility of June 15 being the set date for Pakatan Rakyat’s Black 505 rally, which is planned to protest the alleged fraud in May 5 general election.

“It (MIMMA) is still on, bro,” he said in a text message to this writer.

On his Facebook page, Lo said things would be more manageable now that the event would be at Merbok instead of Dataran Merdeka.

“I don’t think it was unreasonable to ask to move the event to Sunday or away from Merdeka. Let’s face it — 100,000 people descending on Merdeka would have disrupted any event in next door Stadium Negara,” he was quoted as having said.

On preparations for the MIMMA grand finals, Lo said the finalists were sent to a top training camp, Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand where the biggest names in martial arts like Roger Huerta and Georges St Pierre train.

“They were there for a week and now they’re back and getting ready for the finals.

“I’m telling you, it’s really exciting. After the fights, we will have seven new MMA champions. They will certainly have the bragging rights to say: ‘I was there, I fought and I won.’

Hard to escape: Muhammad Aiman struggling to release himself from the clutches of rival Bryan Lim during hte semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur. The Negri exponent, however, has made it to the finals. Hard to escape: Muhammad Aiman struggling to release himself from the clutches of rival Bryan Lim during hte semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur. The Negri exponent, however, has made it to the finals.

“Just wait till next year when, we hope, the championship would become bigger and even more popular than this year’s. Maybe we would see more Sarawakians joining the tournament,” he enthused.

This year, only two Sabahan fighters, Adrian Tham and Allen Solomon Chong, made it to the finals.

“We did have a few Sarawakians trying out in February. I guess it’s the costs involved in coming to Kuala Lumpur for the preliminaries that limited the number of fighters.

“I think many haven’t realised how big MIMMA is. I believe that come next year, more people would be aware of it and be excited to join as the prize money is quite attractive. Overall cash prizes total RM150,000. As such, I hope the gyms in Kuching would send their exponents to the championship.”

Lo said the idea of bringing MIMMA to Sarawak and Sabah did come out but it had to be forgone as it would be too costly, considering that it was a debut circuit.

“I mean to go there, which would mean we had to also bring the cage. So we decided to have it at one spot.

“Nonetheless, with the MIMMA now becoming more popular, I’m sure there’ll be more fighters from the two states next year. We’re even proposing to have the championship to be broadcast on national television,” he said.

Since May 15, the MIMMA has been aired on Astro Starsport Channel 813 every Wednesday at 11pm. It is hosted by Rashid Salleh, also a Sarawakian.

“The choice of Rashid as the host is very much the decision of the marketing team. The idea is to have someone who doesn’t know much about martial arts so that the presentation would really reflect the overall public view. In saying this, though, Rashid has been learning very fast,” Lo laughed.

Bullish: Mohd Fitri (left) charging at Adrian Tham during one of the semi-final bouts. Tham is one of two Sabahans who have booked spots in the grand finals. Bullish: Mohd Fitri (left) charging at Adrian Tham during one of the semi-final bouts. Tham is one of two Sabahans who have booked spots in the grand finals.

Even the MIMMA bug seemed to have infected the Tune Talk chief, whose buffed and chiselled physique is also featured on the programme’s promotional materials alongside the fighters.

Again, Lo laughed.

“Yes, that’s me on the posters. I used to do taekwondo but believe me when I say this: I am a lover, not a fighter.”

Asked whether organising MIMMA had taken its toll on him, Lo said he was happy and fortunate to have a great team of people around him.

“Our marketing team is fantastic. Everything is in good hands so I have no worries. This leaves me to focus on the business together with my ‘homies’ at Tune Talk, just like what we’ve always been doing.”

Clearly the man was passionate about bringing MIMMA to greater heights and raising awareness of mixed martial arts among the masses.

“We want to reach out to the youths, or those who are young at heart,” said Lo. “MIMMA combines the elements of various mixed martial arts we have in Malaysia such as silat, karate, jujitsu, taekwondo and muay thai.

“Seeing that the martial art community are growing, we want to reach out to them by having an event that has it all. These fighters are very committed and passionate but often, they are under-appreciated. We know many want to be involved and as the organisers, Tune Talk want to get behind the community,” he said, adding that there are about 250 gyms in Malaysia that teach martial arts.

“I haven’t visited any of the gyms in Kuching yet. It would be good to visit them come next year’s MIMMA,” he said.

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