There’s no denying that the fight game world can be very superficial sometimes. Combat sports is a visual feast where we like to see two fighters go at each other.
As fight fans, a lot of the times we make judgement by the outer appearance. We see some fighters that have a buffed body and wins easily and our mind began making an opinion that he had it easy because he is blessed with good gene and gifted talent. Not knowing the amount of sheer hard work and sacrifices they have to make to achieve success.
As a kid growing up in Kuala Lumpur, Damon had an interest in martial arts & he took up Karate. But after he got into a fight with his brother, his mother stopped his Karate lessons.
As a young adult he attended HELP University College taking a Diploma in Business. His interest in martial arts again surfaced and he tried Wing Chun but then quickly switched to Muaythai.
Two years in a row Damon’s MIMMA 2 & 3 journey ended at the quarterfinals. But this loss does not dampened his spirit. With renewed vigour, he made sure he is well prepared for 2016.
Damon takes his preparation very seriously. After stumbling twice in MIMMA, he is more determined to improve on his skills. Towards the end of 2015, he took some personal savings and borrowed some money and flew all the way to Brazil to train in his BJJ coach’s Prof Marcos Escobar team – Nova Uniao (this is also the former UFC featherweight champion Jose Also’s team). Damon trained there for 5 months.
“Training there was insanely tough as the Brazilians train hard and spar hard as if it’s a real fight (I got knocked out once, also fractured my nose and got other injuries during MMA sparring over there).
The experience of training there definitely improved my MMA game”
Coming back to Malaysia, he put in hours of training to sharpen his skills. MIMMA 4 was his time. In the tournament, he won 4 fights in a row and met Effendy Kalai in the grand finals. It took Damon less than two round to win the bouts via choke to be the new Bantamweight Champion.
Season 4 achievement was certainly hard earned as he went through some tough journey. The biggest challenge was to maintain weight. Walking around at 73kg, Damon had to cut to 61kg for all his fight in featherweight.
|cutting weight is pain in the butt but necessary evil|
Then it was dealing with multiple injuries, not just from the fight itself but also from training as Damon always go hard during sparring. One of the injuries was a cut below his eyes. It got worst when it was infected. Damon had to bear with it as he took.
|MIMMA 4 Championship belt firmly on his waist|
“In season 4, I almost gave up a number of times because of the big weight cuts and injuries I sustained before the Contenders and Grand Finals fight.
Because of all that, the sweet victory will definitely be remembered by me for life;
In 2017, Damon actually planned to take a break and focus on his BJJ by training more and also compete more in grappling, but there was too little local BJJ comp. Most comp are out of Malaysia and it was costly for him to travel often.
The idea of winning another weight division in MIMMA appeal to Damon, because if he succeeds, he will go down in history as the 1st fighter to do so. Furthermore season 4 new league format intrigue him as it present an opportunity to keep active.
“The desire to compete more frequently was the drive and the motivation was the prize of being able to be the first Malaysian to become MIMMA champion in two different weight categories.”
But Damon’s season 5 plan did not start well. He was experiencing headaches and feeling tired most of the time. Worried, he went to had it check. When league 1 started, the medical results was not back yet and Damon had to miss it.
It was a huge relief for Damon when the results came back and proof that he is in perfect health. So he confirmed his participation for MIMMA 5, this time in featherweight to avoid the stress of cutting weight as the new league format requires fighter to fight 9 months in a row from league 1 to grand finals).
At start of the league, looking at the featherweight pool, Damon was confident that he can win it, the real challenge was keeping himself healthy and injury free throughout season 5. But that was tall order, he was injured but he fought through it.
By league 2 he was ready, but his opponent pulled out. He won league 3 & 4 by submission. Dropped league 5 as he sustained a knee injury. League 6 again his opponent pulled out. League 7 & the semis, he came out victorious both times via arm-lock.
|winning in league 3|
|winning in league 4|
Damon win all his league fights and the semis by submission. This was part of the plan even though he trains equally hard in striking. The plan was to bring the fight to the ground to avoid injuries. Standing and striking puts himself at a higher risk of injuries as anyone can get a lucky shot when trading blows but, on the ground it’s all about skills.
“For the finals I felt comfortable with striking more because even if I get any injuries its already the last fight anyway so I can take time off to recover.”
Though Damon won MIMMA 5 featherweight title in record time, but season 5 was a tougher journey compare to season 4. On paper his medical results showed that he was fine. But he does not feel so right inside. The headaches were gone but he couldn’t shake off the fatigue. He sometimes gets rashes on his chest.
“I had to drink lots coffee to push myself through training and on sparring days I would get punished and eat a lot of strikes or get taken down hard as I was not 100%.
Physical challenges he can overcome, what really affected him was the mental challenges.
Started when his grandmother in Ipoh fell sick. She called him during his training. Damon promise to return call but forgot all about it. Little did he know that it was the last he got to talk to her as she pass away shortly after; making Damon felt very guilty. He was focusing on his training so much that he didn’t have the time to travel back to Ipoh to visit her when she was sick, and he didn’t expect her condition to worsen so fast.
The guilt seriously affected him mentally and causes him to be bulimic. He ate a lot to comfort himself but afterward vomit it all out again. This problem persist during his league matches and he was considering pulling out a number of time.
|remembering his beloved grandmother|
“The one time that I seriously made up my mind to give up was 2 weeks before the grand finals but Aaron Goh managed to talk me out of it.”
Aaron Goh his BJJ coach in MEBJJ Academy is truly a pillar of strength for Damon.
“He isn’t just a BJJ coach to me but he is like an older brother I never had before.
|clelebrating a win with Aaron Goh|
“Character wise, Aaron is the same as I. He doesn’t like to share with others his problems but he shares his problems with me.
Ask on who impressed him most in this season’s featherweight.
“Johan performed beyond my expectation. I didn’t expect him to win all his fights and also winning it all by finishes and not decision.
“My game-plan of standing up was to set up with my hands and throw a lot of leg kicks to cause damage and mess up his footwork.”
As Johan fell on the canvas, like a panther on a hunt, Damon pounced on him and unleased ground and pound. Seeing enough ref Olivier Coste stop the fight at round 1 0:49 sec.
|featherweight belt presented by Ayob of Potosan Corner (VENUM)|
Cheah Wen Khyn and Shammah my main and most consistent MMA sparring partners. Horng Yaw from Team X for always helping me with weight cuts.”
|Fuel for the champion|
“Also my head coach Marcos Escobar for always believing in me and giving me the opportunity to train in Nova Uniao, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The experience was really unforgettable and made me improved a lot as a fighter both mentally and physically.”
|Prof Marcos Escobar celebrating Damon’s MIMMA4 championship victory|
“And sifu Kenneth Lam for letting us use his gym to do MMA sparring as his gym has padded walls and is perfect for MMA sparring.”
On what he thinks about MIMMA 5 league format
“I think the league format is good for fighters to gain more fights and experience as win or lose they still will get to fight a number of times.
|Stretching is an important routine for Damon for recovery of sore muscles|
“Also, I feel that for the champions it is a bit unfair that they don’t get to defend their belt anymore and they have to start from the bottom again if they want to be champions again.”
Currently turning pro is not on his mind as he noticed that pro MMA fighters in Malaysia does not get paid that much, unless they get a huge sponsor. What is on his mind is to able to cope financially for his own training, supplements, food and injuries treatment.
To celebrate his victory of MIMMA 5, Damon and team mates went for a simple meal in a café. To them the job is still not done yet as they still have another hill to climb in Copa da Malasia Grappling comp in April.
|Damon in 2017’s Copa Da Malasia|
Getting to know what Damon went through gave me a newfound respect for him and our other local fighters. The amount of hard work they go through, the sacrifices they have to make, even at amateur competition level are something we all should keep in mind when watching them fight. What we see for 3 or 5 rounds is the culmination of weeks & months of preparing the body and mind for battle.