“I was a pretentious kid. I wanted to be likeable and get along with everyone, so I tried to be someone I wasn’t. The truth is, I was scared. I was scared of confrontation. By being on people’s good side and constantly agreeing with them, I thought they’d respect me.

Between the ages of 18 and 23, I was active in the underground music scene. This scene came with a community made up of mostly hardcore punk kids. I grew up in this community and made friends with kids who were really good people with good principles.

The problem was me. I wanted that reputation and street cred which led me to join some sort of a Hardcore Punk Fraternity. They were kind of like a gang somehow. I won’t mention the crew name but they dealt with real bad stuff. They had connections worldwide and chapters in places like KL, Manila, Cebu and even in Europe.

When I went to Manila to meet other members from the Philippines, I saw firsthand how big the crew was. Even members who were there for the music were carrying guns – and I liked it. I liked it because I felt safe and secure with them. I felt untouchable.

Along the way, I lost the good friends in Singapore who went to punk shows with me. They felt like I had changed since I got into the crew. I behaved like I was better than them and I knew that if they rubbed me the wrong way, they’d ‘get it’ if they were to go to hardcore punk gigs overseas.

My wife had been to gigs before we got together. She was told I was the guy nobody messed with at shows. Nobody liked me but people were friendly with me just to be on my good side. I was happy people felt that way back then, but now it makes me really sad.

The street cred that we had back then was fake. It wasn’t genuine respect but fear. It’s really dumb to have lost a lot of friends because of that. I only realised that when I was older. Why did I get involved with that crew? I should have done something else.

I started boxing after National Service. I always had an interest in it but didn’t have the time for it until after I ORD-ed. My first real sparring was with (national boxer) Hanurdeen. He gave me a beating. I respect Hanurdeen a lot because he played a part in my maturity.

He made me realise I’m not the smartest after all; I’m not the strongest after all; and I’m not the most confident after all. People can beat me up when I’m alone in the ring. All that street fighting practice was nothing. This was real boxing.

So humility and that sense of ‘I’m not the best’ started developing in many aspects of my life. I became aware that I may be good at some things, but someone is always better. So it drives me to keep learning.

With that mindset, I lost weight. When I first came to Legends, I was 75kg. Three to four months later, my weight dropped to 64kg. I put my mind to it because I knew that while there may be people who are better than me, I can be better than my current self.

So now, after a few years of being honest with myself, liking what I like and doing what I say I would do, I can say that I have achieved my standards of masculinity. That is to protect, provide and love my family and friends, though I believe that I have space to mature more.

It’s not about cowering behind some crew. When I see my old pictures of myself, I get pissed. Young Rico thought he was all that. He thought the girls liked him; he thought his friends liked him. It’s disgusting. I’m just glad I didn’t get into any trouble with the police. I was very lucky. Very lucky.

At the same time, I’m glad and thankful that it all happened because now I know what to watch out for when my kids are growing up. Especially my son who’s four. He’s starting to show a bit of me when I was growing up.

If the early experiences didn’t happen, I’d still have that sense of fear and pretentiousness. If the past didn’t happen, I think that sense of falsehood would still be here. I’d rather be myself and have haters than be a chameleon who doesn’t stay true to himself.” – Rico, 30

Interview by: Arman Shah