ONE Fighting Championship made history by selling out the Stadium Negara at the first attempt and at the heart of that success were the Malaysian fighters who surpassed all expectation. No one gave Adam Kayoom a chance against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) legend Gregor Gracie but the Kuala Lumpur (KL) native defied expectations to pull out a come-from-behind decision win.
That victory was made all the more sweet by the fact that it took place a stones throw away from the hospital Kayoom was born in and inside a stadium he had first visited as a small child. Mixed martial arts (MMA) in Malaysia is growing at a remarkable rate and the BJJ black belt, who had also held world titles in Muay Thai, demonstrated that the country has sufficiently high calibre fighters to justify the hype currently surrounding the sport.
The achievement was particularly remarkable because Kayoom is a natural lightweight who had to bulk up in order to fight at 170 lbs. He also had half as many fights as Gracie and few outside of Malaysia believed he was capable of pulling off the upset.
The victory not only established Kayoom as one of the top fighters in the region, it also ignited the Malaysian crowd and ensured that they enjoyed what. for many, was a first ever glimpse at live MMA. As a long term student of BJJ he had mixed feelings about defeating a member of the Gracie family but, as he told MMAmania.com, it was a moment he had dreamed about since his days as a child in KL.
Check it out.
How much did it mean to you to win a fight in front of your hometown crowd?
It meant a lot to me to be able to compete in front of my home town crowd. I grew up in an area not too far from the stadium itself and Malaysia holds a special place in my heart. I remember the first time I went to Stadium Negera. I was 8 years old and I went with my Uncle (Ucu) Samad to watch Malaysia play badminton. From memory, I think we won! So it was quite nostalgic for me to return to that stadium as a competitor myself. I appreciate all the fans that were there supporting me and my fellow Malaysians competing that night. It was pretty electric and an experience I will never forget. The Malaysian fans really brought the house down! I thank them for supporting MMA.
Having been around the martial arts scene in Malaysia for a long time did you ever imagine you would one day get to fight in front of so many people?
Seeing my picture on the banners and posters was surreal. I would never have imagined coming back to fight in the same place that I watched badminton with my Ucu Samad all those ago. It was an awesome experience and I was so happy to see so many Malaysian people come out to support this growing sport.
The stadium was sold out, did you realize that MMA was so popular in Malaysia?
During the weigh-ins, Mr. Victor Cui announced that the show was sold out. That bought a smile to my face and then I realized that this sport has made an impact on so many people. It really is the fastest growing sport. What I really appreciate about the show in KL was that the crowd was respectful and supportive. They were having a good time and made a lot of noise through all the cheering, but the vibe was very positive. Kudos to the crowd for being so awesome!
After having won a lot of competitions and belts in places like Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia etc was competing and winning on a big show in Malaysia a lifetime ambition?
I will be honest, I don’t see it as a lifetime ambition but I do see it as a childhood dream come true. To me a lifetime ambition is a continuous process of growth and education. I haven’t stopped with this fight. I will continue to learn and grow and improve. I am grateful for the opportunity and for the opportunity to work with someone like Mr. Victor Cui in such a professional organization that really cares for the fighters. Every experience that I have had, be it in Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, have all helped shape me in some way and I am grateful for all those experiences and the people I have met along the way who have helped me.
Were you worried that the referee was going to stop the fight towards the end of the first round?
Yes! I knew I could hold on and if I could just quickly uncover to shake my finger at the ref to signal that, "Hey Ref, I am okay and I am trying really hard to stay protected and make a way out!" Fortunately I did. I was waiting to catch the arm to escape. I am lucky that I had Matt Hume as my ref as he is so experienced and knew that we could keep going. People came to see a battle and a battle it was!
When you sat down at the stool at the end of round one what was going through your head?
I was emptying my mind through breath. During my training camp, we practiced working out of bad positions and what we would do between rounds. I stuck to my game plan and stayed focused. It is all about recovering between those rounds – mentally as well as physically.
Gracie seemed to tire suddenly towards the end of round two and made no efforts to check your kicks, at what point did you realize he might have gassed and how much confidence did that give you?
I didn’t really think of him being gassed. Gregor is in good condition and he is tough. I just worked my game plan, my strikes hit where they were supposed to hit. My style of fighting is that I work to the body anyway. I knew Gregor had heavy hands if they land on you (just watch his straight left in his fight with Seok Mo Kim), so I was making sure I was not being careless but part of my style is pressuring when it comes to striking. I never felt more confident I was just focused. I was always cautious, you cannot allow yourself to become over confident in any way as you never know if someone is playing possum and leading you into a trap. That’s why they say it’s a game of inches. And also, I would never want to be as arrogant as to assume a sense of confidence over such as strong opponent and competitor. That is how you get hit with something you don’t see coming and I like to see everything coming at me!
You focused mainly on kicks and not punches in the third round, was there a reason for that?
I focused a lot on my punches in my training but I also had the confidence to kick and I used my hands to set up my kicks, elbows and knees. That is something Coach Ray Elbe and Coach Barry Robinson of ‘A Million Styles Boxing’ who is currently coaching at Phuket Top Team, worked with me on. Everything before and after a knee, kick or elbow started with hands and ended with hands if he was still in range. I would also like to thank Coach JJ Ambrose for sparring south paw with me throughout my camp, I know it sucked, but thank you!
You landed one nasty looking stomp to his body, how much do you enjoy fighting under the Pride style ruleset?
A lot! Someone who is a heavy kicker or comes from a striking background can really benefit from these rules. I feel it evens out the playing field.
When the fight finished you were celebrating while Gracie lay on the floor, were you nervous waiting for the decision or did you know you had won?
Regardless of the decision, I knew I had fought with my heart, mind, body and spirit. No matter what the decision, I was proud of myself for weathering the first round and staying focused and on target. I did not know that I had won at that point, so it was an incredible feeling to have my hand raised in victory. It may sound selfish but I was happy with how I had battled with a strong opponent.
After the fight you had some kind words about the Gracie family, how much of an honour was it for you to fight Gregor?
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a huge part of my life. I have a saying, "I started with the Gi and I will end with the Gi." I feel that indicated how much of an honour it is. I have always respected the Gracie family for giving us all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Rest in peace Master Carlson Gracie.
He looked a lot bigger than you, will you be competing again at 170 or do you plan to drop to 155?
I enjoyed this training camp, even though trying to eat as much as I could was a task, I kind of enjoyed it!! So, we’ll see!
You were taken down and put in some bad positions but you were always able to escape, how happy were you with your BJJ performance?
My black belt was given to me by Master Ricardo Liborio and was helped by the guys of American Top Team/ Brazilian Top Team/ Sul Jiu-Jitsu and Marcelo Garcia. I feel that I did them proud and will always work to improve my BJJ. Basically I was happy with my BJJ performance and my recovery. I also learned an important lesson, never attempt a Gi style move in an MMA match, especially against a Gracie!!
When are you hoping to fight for One FC again?
Right now I am happy to be back teaching at Q23, my Academy for BJJ in Bangkok. I missed the guys and girls. I have a great academy with wonderful students some of whom were able to make the trip to KL to support me. I am grateful for all the support. I am spending some time now also with my wife who is expecting our first child within the month, so it has a been a truly amazing month full of so many things to be grateful for. That is why I have gratitude tattooed on both my forearms. I look forward to working with Mr. Victor Cui and ONE FC again in the near future.