People of Legends | More than a decade after his last fight, Kai returns to action and partners up with “Love, Nils” to raise money for kids with cancer.

“It’s been 11 years since my last fight. I medalled at the 2009 SEA Games, and then I stayed around for one more year, just to mic-drop. In 2010, after winning nationals, I told everyone I was done. I didn’t want to represent the country in amateur boxing anymore.

But I’ll be returning to the ring on November 6th, and I’m in limbo right now. I mean, you don’t want to find out that you shouldn’t be fighting anymore, only when you’re already in the ring. Oh my God. That will be nine minutes of hell, and it will be streamed live on Twitch.

The event that I’m participating in takes place at Legends in Tampines. It’s a new sparring event that happens once every two months. It’s organised by Ridhwan. He’s the co-founder of the boxing gym and also a former teammate when we were both still in the national team.

In doing this, Ridhwan’s actually keeping the local boxing scene alive, although he doesn’t take the recognition for it. He’s giving people motivation to train, especially during a time when the future of boxing competition is so uncertain, thanks to COVID-19.

Back during our days, there was such a scarcity of sparring partners. We had to go to Johor to spar because we were not experiencing enough fighting styles here in Singapore. So this inter-gym sparring thing is an awesome opportunity for everyone involved.

What inspired this return? Well, it’s just in my nature. You see it in a lot of professional boxers – they don’t seem to know when to stop. It’s in my personality to still want to be on the fringes of this growing thing that is Singapore boxing.

And as a custodian or an old pioneer, it’s my responsibility to ensure that the standard is there. If I, given my age and current lifestyle, can still be in the mix, then the mix is not doing enough. Am I right? It’s the mix’s fault for giving me the delusion that I can still do this!

My opponent will be Solihin, who was also from the national team. Ridhwan, Solihin and I go way back, since our days training together at Kadir Boxing School. He was in bantamweight (54kg), Ridhwan was in featherweight (57kg) and I was in lightweight (60kg).

In conjunction with our spar, Solihin and I are working together with a non-profit called LOVE, NILS to raise money for children with cancer. It was founded by a lady named Leslie who lost her son Nils to cancer. He ended every message with, ‘Love, Nils’, thus the name.

I have personally lost a few people to cancer, including a mother figure when I was living in the Netherlands. She was my ex-girlfriend’s mum. She was a gym teacher who only ate organic food. She didn’t drink or smoke, yet we lost her to Stage 4 lung cancer.

I cared for her to the point where I was carrying her to the toilet every night with a morphine machine around her neck, pulling her pants down for her to pee, and putting her back in bed. When I came back to Singapore, I had always wanted to do something for cancer.

So I approached LOVE, NILS and asked Leslie if we could campaign for her cause. And I’m so glad she agreed because I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t want their cause to be associated with boxing. But she was like, ‘Let’s do this, man! How can I help? Let me know.’

Training and preparations are going well. This is what I used to do for 10 years, everyday. The monk life, I called it, because you had nothing to do but train. Now I have work, of course, and I always maintain that I’m a coach first.

But it’s so nice to feel that satisfaction of post-training again. When you know the hard work is done for the day and you’re just about to relax, have a meal or watch TV. You’re sore all over but tomorrow training starts again. It’s really nostalgic.

I used to do it for myself for 10 years. I didn’t have a girlfriend or a social life because I didn’t think it would be good for my boxing. But when I medalled at SEA Games, which was the magnum opus or highlight of my boxing journey, I realised I didn’t have anyone to share that happiness with.

But thanks to LOVE, NILS, doing this all over again feels different now. And it’s so awesome that an athletic apparel brand like Lululemon is allowing us to product test their line in conjunction with our fight against cancer. Even KODA Nutrition is sending us energy bars and gels.

I’m just so mind-blown by the love and support. On days where I feel unmotivated and don’t feel like running, reminding myself that there are people out there who believe we can raise money and fight for a cause really gives me drive. It gives my punches more depth, and my jabs have more meaning now.” – Kai, 38, Coach at Legends Fight Sport

Interview by: Arman Shah

Photo by: Azfian Anuar