Gianni Subba plans to grab his short-notice opportunity with both hands and gatecrash the ONE Flyweight World Title picture in the process.
The 9-2 Malaysian star will step up to face former bantamweight world title challenger Reece “Lightning” McLaren in the main event of ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY. The event takes place in Kuala Lumpur, this Friday, 9 March, and Subba knows that victory will set him up for a world title tilt later this year.
It’s a huge opportunity for the Hawaii-born athlete, who moved to Kuala Lumpur with his mother when he was just a toddler. He grew up in Malaysia with his sister and brother Keanu, but things changed when he and his brother were packed off to the United States to study on their own.
“We lived in a one-bedroom apartment when I was 15 and my brother was 13,” he told ONE Championship.
“I think my parents wanted us to have a better education than what we could get in Malaysia.
“Trust me, I am surprised I graduated!”
The pair had already trained in taekwondo back in Malaysia, but while in the US they caught the martial arts bug when they saw the action in the cage via US-based promotions.
Without the funds to train at a proper gym, the pair sparred against each other using 12-ounce boxing gloves bout from a local Wal-Mart, and learned techniques from watching YouTube.
Keanu later returned to Malaysia, leaving Gianni alone in the States, where he eventually found a spot to train and sharpen his martial arts skills.
“In Salt Lake City I finally found the training in basic boxing, kickboxing, and jiu-jitsu that I had been wanting,” he said.
“I was 17, and needed my parents’ signatures to compete, because I was not yet 18.
“Since my parents were not there in America, I could not do it. So I told myself that I would just keep training, and once I turned 18, I would compete.”
Subba graduated from high school, working a full-time job to help pay for his university education. His desire to train had to be put on ice while he pursued his studies, but after seeing his brother turn pro back in Malaysia, Gianni’s passion for competition was reignited once again..
“My brother had been back in KL for a while, and they offered him a contract to compete,” he said.
“The whole time I thought if my brother could to this, then maybe I could be doing it too.”
Subba left college to pursue a career in martial arts. It was a weight off his shoulders as he finally grasped the opportunity to chase his passion.
“The whole time I was in university, the only thing I thought about was trying to compete,” he said.
“I moved back to Malaysia in May 2012, and started training full-time.”
The brothers reunited at Monarchy MMA in Kuala Lumpur and Gianni was all set to make his pro debut for a local promotion, then things took a dramatic turn upward, as he explained.
“I was supposed to participate on this smaller show called ‘Ultimate Beatdown.’ And then, shortly before, ONE called me up and asked if I wanted to compete on three weeks’ notice in Singapore against a Singaporean.”
Subba took the chance, jumped into the ONE Championship cage for his professional debut, and knocked out Bruce Loh in just 33 seconds to claim a dream win.
“The win was a validation,” he said.
“You always think you can maybe do this, but you also always have doubts going into matches, especially competing professionally on a big stage. It gave me validation that maybe I could do this full-time.”
Fast forward five and a half years, and Subba is set to face Australia’s McLaren in Kuala Lumpur with the prize of a title shot on the line. After taking a chance that paid off at the start of his career, Subba now plans on doing the same with this short-notice opportunity in his home town.
“I want to prove I am the number one contender,” he says. “I know that I am, and now, I have to go out there and prove it.”