EXCLUSIVE | “Jungle Cat” Muhammad Aiman is calm and collected on the road to ONE Championship glory

Muhammad Aiman
Photo via Gianni Subba

23-year-old Malaysian bantamweight Muhammad Aiman is known for his unpredictable style inside the cage. One moment, he might be biding his time, and the next, you might catch him throwing back-to-back cartwheel kicks or leaping onto his foe’s back chasing a rear-naked choke.

Outside the cage, however, “Jungle Cat” is not nearly as wild.

The former MIMMA champ is cool, calmed and collected, even as his high-stakes ONE: HEART OF THE LION showdown with once-beaten Japanese destroyer Shuya “Stealth” Kamikubo towers on the horizon.

“Everything is all going really well,” Muhammad Aiman told me of his final preparations as we sat together on the mats in the training room at the Mercure Bugis Hotel in Singapore, the card’s host city. “I felt a little bit tired yesterday, but I don’t think about it that much. For me, if I don’t feel that well, I don’t think about it that much because you’ve got to fight tomorrow anyway. You’ve got to just do it. So that’s how I feel. I feel a bit off, but I’m good.”

Aiman will enter this fight with Kamikubo with a solid win in the rear-view mirror. In his last bout, which went down in Shanghai, China in September, he bounced back from a tough first round by forcing his opponent, the undefeated Chen Lei, to tap in to a rear-naked choke in the second frame.

The 23-year-old considers this victory over Lei a key moment in his development as a martial artist, as he was able to keep calm when things weren’t going his way — something he says he’s struggled to do in the past.

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“I performed really good,” he said. “I was down in that first round and I came back the next round and I finished him. I really stay composed, and I didn’t freak out at all. That’s one of my weakness sometimes, I freak out a little bit. I didn’t freak out even though I was losing the whole round. I just kept defending, kept doing my thing. So yeah, I feel like that was one of my best performances.”

Against Kamikubo, Aiman will look to build on the momentum he created with this come-from-behind defeat of Lei. He does not expect an easy night at the office, however.

“I feel like he’ll be a little bit tougher than Chen Lei, but I don’t feel that he has the edge or the creativity in his game to beat me,” Aiman said, speaking with a quiet but unmistakable confidence in his game. “But I do feel like I have to stay composed and keep defending what’s coming. I feel like he’s a tough guy and I just need to stay focused.”

“I feel like all of my opponents, they have to prepare for everything,” he added. “Sometimes in there I just start doing my thing and the punches the kicks just come from every single angle and I that’s what he has to worried about.”

“I’m probably going to have to throw a lot more than I did against Chen Li.”

If Aiman is able to defeat Kamikubo in Singapore, he’ll find himself on an impressive three-fight win streak, and he’ll emerge as one of the ONE bantamweight division’s brightest young contenders.

That being said, he’s in no rush to fight for the ONE Bantamweight World Title. He recognizes that the division is quite stacked and that, at just 23 years old, he’s got plenty of time to navigate its perilous waters.

“I feel like I’m still climbing,” he said. “My division is pretty stacked, so it’s going to take me longer to get a title shot. Maybe another year, I feel like I will get it, or another year in a half.”

“I’m in no rush,” he continued. “When I look at some of these guys there, the champions, the contenders, the top-5 in my division, I feel like they’re really good, and I still don’t know how I’m going to beat them. So I feel like I need to train a lot and improve my skills and get better.”

While Aiman is willing to take his career slow, he does have one fairly immediate goal. He’s hoping to fight at ONE Championship’s March debut in Tokyo — against a local fighter.

“If I beat [Kamikubo], I really want to fight in Tokyo next year,” he said. “So that’s what I’m really looking forward to, and that’s what I’m asking for, to fight in Tokyo. Hopefully I would be fighting another Japanese. I fought Chen Lei in Shanghai, and that felt great. I’d love to fight another Japanese in Tokyo.”

“It’s going to be a great card and I want to be a part of it.”

While title shots and Tokyo showdowns are both very real possibilities in Muhammad Aiman’s future, he’s currently dialled in on the task at hand.

He’s ready for war in Singapore.

“I feel like it’s going to be a war,” he said of his imminent fight. “I feel like it might be crazy. I’m not going to say I’ll win or lose. Hopefully I’ll win, but I just want to put on a great performance for Singapore again. That’s what I’m really hoping for, I just want to put on a great performance.

“He’s a tough guy, he’s not going to go down easy,” he added, praising his opponent.

Catch Muhammad Aiman in action on the undercard of ONE: HEART OF THE LION on Friday night in Singapore (Friday morning in North America). His fight, and the entire card, will stream live and free one the ONE Super App.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 11/9/2018.