The first time I interviewed Radeem Rahman, the Singaporean seemed to have the world at his feet. It was 2011 and he was set to be the only local fighter on the card at ONE FC's inaugural show, which made him the subject of immense media scrutiny.
Rahman easily dispatched an overmatched Indian opponent at the Singapore Indoor Stadium to send the crowd home happy, only to slip off the radar for the best part of three years. Much has changed in the intervening period, but his pro MMA record remains at 1-0.
ONE FC is now firmly established as the biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion in Asia. In addition, Singapore has become a hub for combat sports in the region with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) setting up offices there and fighters from Lion City have more opportunities and attention on them than ever before.
As the 26 year old prepares to return to the cage to face Raymond Tan at ONE FC: "Honor & Glory" later this month, he does not want to dwell on what has happened since his last fight.
"I have not fought for quite some time as I was out injured and also due to personal reasons."
Another thing that has changed since September 2011 is Rahman's weight. After consulting with his coaches, he has decided to move up a division in order to make his comeback,
"I decided to compete in 135 pounds after getting advice from my head coach, Heath Sims. I feel good and comfortable in that weight class, I feel I could still make 125, but the most important thing is to listen to my coaches' advice as they have greater experience and knowledge than me."
ONE FC's 135-pound division is an intimidating place to be as there are numerous world class mixed martial artists like Bibiano Fernandes, Dae Hwan Kim, Masakatsu Ueda, Fransino Tirta, Xian Ji, Yusup Saadulaev, and Koetsu Okazaki and few, if any, easy fights.
For Rahman's comeback he faces a much tougher test than the one which Susovan Ghosh posed him on his ONE FC debut, because he is taking on a taller and more experienced opponent. Tan is listed as 5'11" but his actual height might well be an inch or two greater and he fought twice at the tail end of 2013, winning one and losing one.
Tan lives and trains in Penang meaning that this will be a Malaysia vs. Singapore match up, which is sure to stir up some partisan passion in the crowd and Rahman says he has been preparing specifically for his opponent's unique skill set.
"It is a good match up for me. He is a tall guy and also have a good reach but I am really looking forward to the fight and I have been working more on my footwork and speed and also working on my striking to set up for a takedown and submission. I have been drilling the same set up until I perfect the timing and technique."
Injury issues have prevented Rahman from training continuously since his last fight, but he has been spending as much time at Evolve MMA as possible and credits the staff there with guiding him through his rehabilitation and path back to full fitness.
"I had surgery on my knee and everything went well, but it took me some time to get in shape and also overcome the mental issue of the injury. I have been in a good shape since then, it's an amazing journey so far and I am glad that I have my coaches, professors and Krus helping me along the way as I try to get back to where I left before."
Whereas before Rahman was being billed as Singapore's only professional mixed martial artist, there is now plenty of competition from aspiring local fighters and he is working tirelessly to reclaim his reputation as the country's best.
"I train hard to improve myself four to five hours a day, six days a week. Currently, I train with both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champions Bruno Pucci and Herbert Burns as both of them are very high level grapplers and also they have long reach and for my striking. I trained under Muay Thai world champion Orono Wor Petchpun awhile and six times national champion Heath Sims helps me with my wrestling."
Stepping back into the ONE FC cage after such a prolonged absence will potentially be a surreal experience for Rahman because the memories will seem so familiar and yet so far away. Add to that any uncertainty as to whether the knee has recovered and you have a potentially potent mix of problems, but the Singaporean says he is just happy to be back.
"I am eager and hungry to be back in the cage. I believe in hard work and I have trained hard under world champion instructors, so I am confident I will be mentally prepared on May 30th. I believe in my coaches, my team mates and the world class training program which is set out for the Evolve MMA Fight Team."
ONE FC: "Honor & Glory" will be headlined by a welterweight match between Ben Askren and Bakhtiyar Abbasov and the entire card will be available to purchase for $9.99. Rahman's fight is likely to be streamed free online on the undercard.