Off The Beaten Track
LOCAL BOXING STAR MUHAMAD RIDHWAN LEADS A DOUBLE LIFE AS AN ENTREPRENEUR AND PRO ATHLETE. HE SHARES WHAT IT TAKES TO PURSUE A PATH THAT IS NOT EVERYONE’S CUP OF TEA.
‘The Chosen Wan’ is humble and focused. His shy demeanor is in stark contrast to the loud, circus-like fanfare that accompanies each title bout.
TThis is not a rags-to-riches story that depicts Muhamad Ridhwan’s rise to the top. Rather, it’s a tale that tells of his choice to do things differently; to live a life that is unconventional and saddled with responsibilities. The media spotlight on Ridhwan has never been this glaring, but it’s not a surprise. He is Singapore’s first World Boxing Association champion, and after clinching the Universal Boxing Organization world title shortly after, his pro future seems extremely bright. The 29-year-old is a three-time Sea Games bronze medallist, but back then, those medals reminded him of his failure to clinch gold. “I thought maybe I was done with the sport and that I’ve got nothing left to offer,” he recalls. “I took a break and did a coaching course, but realised boxing is still a sport I relish.” He rediscovered his verve after a training stint in the Philippines and continued to plough on. Ridhwan’s efforts paid off with those wins, and he even secured a contract with Ringstar Management, a boxing management and promotions company. His situation may appear rosy, but like any athlete striving for excellence, he had to face multiple hurdles.
“Funding is a problem, but that’s a boring answer,” he says. “I’m quite sick and tired of people complaining that not having enough money is a challenge – it will always be. When I first started, I had nothing. I worked as a freelance trainer and took on odd jobs such as being a cleaner and doing pizza deliveries.
“Whether it’s for $30 or $40 a day, I would do it. I was also juggling both my studies and competing as an amateur boxer, so it was difficult to hold down a full-time job.”
With a business partner, he managed to pull together his savings and launch his first gym, Legends Fight Sport, which at first wasn’t meant to be a boxing gym. “I realised people do appreciate my knowledge of the sport,” he says. “So I decided to teach them properly and in my own style.”
Ridhwan’s ferocious hooks and nifty footwork have astounded both opponents and observers, but the man who’s also known as “The Chosen Wan” remains humble and focused.
His shy demeanor is in stark contrast to the loud, circus-like fanfare that accompanies each title bout, but that’s why fans love him: He always lets his gloves do the talking.
Outside of the ring, however, success is not as easily quantifiable as that of a title belt. Ridhwan opened a second gym recently, which outsiders would deem a financial success – but not so much for him.
“Some people think I’m having it easy,” he says. “But they don’t know my income. Entrepreneurship is a lonely industry, and boxing is a lonely sport. I happen to be juggling both and the struggles are real. I can quit and get a stable job but I can’t just abandon members who look forward to train. Also, I want to provide for the people who have been supporting me.
“Success is not about profits or how many businesses I own. It’s more of what I’m leaving behind when I’m gone.”
Ridhwan is keen to stress that despite owning two gyms, having sufficient funds is always an ongoing issue, but it’s a challenge he is willing to face.
“Sometimes you don’t really know what’s going on,” he says. “You might even slip into depression if you don’t handle the pressure properly. A lot of my training expenses still come from my own pocket, and my gyms don’t fund my training.
“Getting into business is always a risk. I have no template on how to prevent failure. But whatever the outcome, it will always be worth it.”
Ultimately, Ridhwan is taking his dual life very seriously. He feels that he is on the cusp of greater things. With each fight (his next match is for the IBO Intercontinental Belt on Oct 20), he feels he is stepping ever closer to his dream.
“I love fighting – that’s what I want to do,” he says. “I want to fight on the big stage, and one of my goals is to unite Singaporeans through boxing. There are so many people who don’t see eye to eye, like on social media, where there’s just so much hate – racism issues for example. Also, people blame the government for every minor problem.
“My aim is to be involved in a huge title match that would take place in an arena like the National Stadium, and to have everyone put aside his or her differences, come together, and show support.”
Ridhwan understands that his dream may sound lofty to some, but he is confident that he can fulfil it.
“Whatever I have been through has made me become more resilient and determined,” he says. “Plus, it helps that I’m quite stubborn!”