Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach Bruno Barbosa has worked alongside Agilan “Alligator” Thani since the beginning.

Barbosa transformed the once chubby Sentul native into a national hero, and Thani’s eagerness to learn made passing on valuable knowledge easy for the Brazilian.

“I’ve known him since 2013 when I first came to Malaysia. He always wants to be a better version of himself,” the Monarchy MMA coach said.

“That is a fighter’s mindset in general, but he is quite different. Some athletes stop training when they are only dead tired, but he doesn’t even stop when he reaches that stage.

“The one thing which makes Agilan stand out from the rest is his hard work.”

Over three years, Barbosa witnessed his student climb up the amateur ranks in Malaysia and claim the MIMMA Welterweight Title in 2014, before securing a 6-0 run in ONE Championship

However, just like most success stories, there came a plot twist for the BJJ practitioner.

The “Alligator” fell short on his quest to claim the ONE Welterweight World Title in May 2017. Then he suffered back-to-back losses to Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam and Kiamrian “Brazen” Abbasov in the second half of 2018.

“I knew his physical condition was getting bad, and he was suffering a bit, but I always wanted to support his decision depending on the severity of the situation,” he said.

“During that time (the defeats to Ben Askren, Kadestam, and Abbasov), he always told us that he was feeling good during training. But in the Circle, you can see a very different Agilan.

“He’s a tough kid, and he never quits. I told him, if you want to come back and find your old form, you have to respect your body and take care of yourself.”

The Sentul native took his coach’s advice and went into the operating room to settle a back injury that hampered him on the global stage.

With the proper help, support, and advice, Thani returned to action in 2019 with two successful outings – first, against Japanese-Korean martial arts icon Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama, and then against Dante Schiro.

If there is anything to note about Thani’s performances in 2019, it is that there could be more room for growth in 2020.

However, Barbosa just wants “Alligator” to take one step at a time rather than jumping in with both feet.

“His chances are great, but we don’t want to rush anything.”

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