Keanu Subba made his professional debut back in 2011 at the first documented mixed martial arts (MMA) event to ever take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was just a schoolboy at the time and dropped a decision to an opponent twice his age.
Fast forward three years later and the scene in Malaysia has changed beyond all recognition. ONE FC puts on regular events in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysian Invasion MMA (MIMMA) has set up the biggest domestic amateur competition in the world.
Keanu’s older brother Gianni signed with ONE FC and has established himself as the top flyweight in the country but the younger Subba sibling has made a big impression on the Malaysian amateur scene.
Keanu beat four separate opponents to become the inaugural MIMMA 145-pound champion last year and on Saturday night (local time) he returns to defend his belt against the season two champion Josh Khiew.
"It will be an interesting fight because I'm used to being the taller fighter but I saw one of his fights live and I think he's just a tall featherweight with not a lot of skills," he told MMAmania.com.
Khiew has competed frequently throughout the course of the year and won four straight fights to win Season 2 while Subba has fought only twice becoming the season one champion last year although he says he has been training hard.
"I trained a lot on my Muay Thai with Kru Watcharachai, boxing with coach Iwon from Your Choice Boxing Gym and strength and conditioning with Pushmore while I was in KL. I did two weeks at Tiger Muay Thai trained and learned a lot from Professor Fernando and Roger Huerta. Then the last two weeks in Bali MMA and Muay Thai with my brother, Don Carlos, Andrew Leone, and Professor Matt Sung Lee."
Subba’s two recent fights both took place in the space of two days at the World Amateur MMA Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he feels the experience of training and travelling to that tournament with the Malaysian team will serve him well during his future career.
"It was a good learning experience for me winning and losing is always good because you learn so much from it."
Gianni’s first ever pro fight was under the ONE FC banner and he has competed five times for Asia’s biggest MMA promotion running up a 4-1 record and establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in the flyweight division.
Keanu could just as easily have signed with ONE FC but he elected to take the amateur route and says he has no regrets.
"I think you have to work your way up to being a pro especially when MMA is so new in Malaysia. Back then there wasn't any MMA gyms in KL and I had only been training MMA for 18 months and knew nothing about MMA."
Malaysia now has one of the most burgeoning MMA scenes in Malaysia and it is largely thanks to the investment that Tune Talk, the telecommunications company that bankrolls MIMMA, has made in the sport.
"MIMMA is doing the right thing and I'm so grateful to be apart of MIMMA because Jason Lo and the rest of the crew are genuinely passionate about growing the sport of MMA here in Malaysia," Subba said.
Ultimately the goal for Subba is to follow in his sibling’s footsteps by becoming a fully fledged professional and he expects to graduate from the amateur ranks in the not-too-distant future.
"Gianni is a smart fighter and I learn a lot training with him, it's always good to have someone correct you. I will be turning pro by the end of this year."
Khiew has a reputation as being one of the better fighters to emerge from the burgeoning MMA scene and it is clear that he and Subba both possess skill sets which would not be out of place in the professional ranks.
It promises to be high-level fight but Subba is confident that ultimately he will prevail by successfully defending his MIMMA title in a bout that he says has already become personal.
"I personally don't like him because of all the smack talk he's been talking. I will finish him."
The entire Malaysian Invasion Season 2 Grand Finale will be available to view online free of charge at www.mimmalive.tunetalk.com.