SINGAPORE, In slightly more than a month, Singapore's top boxer Muhamad Ridhwan will embark on a rite of passage the likes of Filipino Manny Pacquiao and Briton Anthony Joshua have taken and passed.
These two boxers have gone on to become household names in the sport. Now it is Ridhwan's turn for a shot at glory.
Ridhwan, 30, will take on Namibian former world champion Paulus Ambunda, 38, at the Marina Bay Sands on Sept 29 for the International Boxing Organisation (IBO) super bantamweight (up to 55kg) world title.
But there's more than just a world title at stake. The IBO is considered the biggest organisation outside the sport's four major bodies: the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organisation (WBO).
Pacquiao and Joshua won the IBO super lightweight and heavyweight world titles respectively before achieving greater heights, and Ridhwan acknowledged the significance of a victory next month.
"Our goal is to get bigger fights, tougher fights, whether locally or internationally," he told reporters at a media event on Wednesday (Aug 15).
"Maybe one day one of the big boys will call and say Scott, I want to fight one of your guys, Ridhwan," he added, referring to his manager and promoter Scott O'Farrell. "And that's the fight that we will want."
However Ridhwan, who earned his title shot after beating Filipino Jeson Umbal for the IBO intercontinental featherweight title in April, said he is not getting carried away.
Ambunda is a formidable opponent who knows what it takes to win an IBO world title, having clinched the super bantamweight world title in August 2015 before losing it almost a year later.
"We are not undermining our opponent so we are still focused on this fight," Ridhwan added.
Still, there was no love lost between the fighters as they upped the ante ahead of their high-stakes bout.
"Scott, why are you making me punch an old man?" Ridhwan asked, teasing Ambunda about his age.
"As a boxer, he's done. He's going to retire after this fight, he is going to thank me after that for helping him make a decision.
"In terms of his boxing, he hits good but he's nothing great. He's slow because going forward, he's a walking punching bag."
Ambunda, who's also a former WBO world bantamweight champion and Olympic quarter-finalist, didn't back down.
"I'm not yet old, I'm fresh and young. He's my boy, and I'm his father. I will be his teacher on the 29th," he said.
"Ridhwan is a great boxer, up-and-coming, but he's still got a lot of mistakes in him. I have to teach him how to respect an elder in the ring.
"The fans of Ridhwan will break down in tears because they will see him counting stars."
PREPARATIONS AND ASPIRATIONS
On a more serious note, Ridhwan said his team will prepare for the fight by flying in a pair of sparring partners who are also world title contenders.
His gameplan? Launching an offensive when Ambunda slows down and going for the knockout. "I don't want Paulus to make excuses (after a potential defeat)," Ridhwan said.
Ridhwan doesn't want to make excuses for his career either, telling Channel NewsAsia afterwards that he wants to be "the best professional boxer Singapore has ever seen".
Within the next five years, he said his target is to win a title from one of the big four boxing organisations.
"I don't know if there will be a step up in weight, but I will definitely want to get one of those titles and bring it to Singapore," he said. "With careful planning, hard work and dedication, I think we can reach that."
O'Farrell said winning an IBO world title is the perfect launch pad into the big leagues, noting that the best boxers have usually held IBO world titles.
"It's the only world title that has integrity," he explained, pointing out that the organisation aligns itself with BoxRec, one of the most recognised record-keeping systems in world boxing.
"BoxRec is a computerised system that tells you where a fighter is based on his fights and skill level and everything across all divisions. So, it's kind of an unbiased view."
To that end, O'Farrell said Ridhwan, who boasts an undefeated 11-0 record, has what it takes to reach the pinnacle of boxing.
"I've seen boxers before and this guy has every single bit," he said. "You can see how strong he looks, you can see how sharp he looks. He's also getting mentally ready, his game now is not all about physical and cardio, it's very calculated."
If Ridhwan wins his fight next month, O'Farrell said the plan is to defend the title and unify it with other major world titles.
"The long-term vision is to see Ridhwan as a four-time world champion with four different belts," he added. "And then we're gonna step him up through (weight) divisions."
For Ridhwan, a three-time Southeast Asian Games bronze medallist, one of his biggest goals is to "unite the whole of Singapore through boxing".
"It will be amazing to see the whole arena packed with a lot of Singaporeans," he added. "Maybe they can bring back the Kallang Wave, but in a boxing arena."
Source: NAM News Network