Fighting Out Of Paradise
| by Olivia Leonie 2018
Bali has been an iconic destination for over 40 years. With its slow way of life, stunning landscapes, pumping waves, lively gastronomic scene, and hospitable local inhabitants, it’s easy to see why the world flocks to this tropical playground. The Bali experience is a blissful one, though for many it lasts a meagre two weeks. Relocating here is a pipe dream for many, but for the slew of international athletes who live under the Bali MMA wing it’s just another day at the office.
The gym’s inexorable rise on the global MMA scene has attracted scores of professional athletes from far-flung corners of the globe. For those who have been with the gym since it hatched in 2014, familiarity has bred a cool indifference. But a brief holiday back home suffices to remind them just how coveted their Bali lifestyle really is. As for the latest arrivals, the island’s beguiling ways still have them entranced.
Australian-born Turkish fighter Kaan Ofli, arrived in Bali at the start of 2018 after hearing about the gym’s reputation from a family member. Ofli came for the gym’s renowned quality of training, but stayed for the multifaceted Bali experience. “I’ve made this place my home because of what it’s offered me. The vibe just feels right. My training partners and coaches are top-notch. I knew this was the place that would help me on my journey.”
Ofli has settled comfortably into the Bali lifestyle. “The luxuries I enjoy here are incredible,” he says while sipping on a coconut slushie in the cafe. “Everywhere you go there’s delicious, healthy food available, and affordable massages are just what you need after training.” The Bali appears to be treating Ofli well, as earlier in the month he dismantled his opponent at his debut for Brave Combat Federation. He is now a contracted athlete under ONE Warrior Series.
Relocating to South East Asia for martial arts training is by no means a new phenomenon. The gyms which line the streets of Soi Ta Ied have been attracting scores of fighters and holiday warriors for over a decade now. The lure of year-round balmy weather, cheap cost of living, and chance to hit the beach daily has seduced many a fighter hoping to make it on a shoestring budget.
Cheap rent and $1 chicken rice lunches are a foolproof way to a budding fighter’s heart. The newly sprouted ‘MMA Chicken’ across from the gym is a testament to the number of fighter’s bellies it fills daily. A affordable life in Bali allows professional prize fighters the chance to survive full-time on their sometimes meagre fight purses. This is an impossible feat for those who still live in the west and have yet to make it on the big stage.
Juggling a full-time job while training twice a day is a toilsome reality for many. Professional fighter Nyrene Crowley, another recent addition to the gym, insists that the move to Bali has transformed her approach to training: “Living in Bali opened a new realm for me. I can now dedicate so much more time to training, recovering and improving my mental game because I no longer have to work full time.”
Nyrene and her partner Mike Ikilei (now Bali MMA’s head striking coach) relocated from Auckland New Zealand, and with them, a team of Kiwi strikers who hope to soak up the gym’s grappling expertise. “Mike and I stayed because Bali was more than we ever hoped it would be. Everything we thought we were leaving behind in New Zealand, we found in Bali. It was very different from Thailand, where we were before. I know it’s been said before, but the vibe and family environment here is just magnetic,” said Crowley.
Aside from the recent influx, the Bali MMA cradle is also home to some old-timers like ONE Championship superstars Muhammad Aiman, Stefer Rahardian, and the Subba brothers. Aiman lives in Bali for the majority of the year, returning to Malaysia only for Visa runs and the rare familial and religious obligation. He was home recently for the start of Ramadan with his mother, father and three siblings.
Here in Bali, the 23-year-old cruises around on his vintage CB100, long salty locks billowing in the breeze. He’s usually coming from a morning surf at his favourite secret spot, and his cheerful demeanor suggests that today was a good one. “I’m usually at the gym, or the beach”, he says with his signature wide grin. “I love Bali. My whole team is here. They’re my family away from home. And I love surfing. I try to surf everyday, as early as possible. I’m in the water by 6 sometimes.”
Those who visit Bali MMA for the top-notch training are also blessed with consistent, world-class waves on the gym’s doorstep. Anyone who has faced the struggles and the strides on both a surfboard and the mats will tell you that there’s a discernible resemblance between surfing and MMA. Aiman embraces the daily roughhousing he gets in the water and in the gym: “They’re both tough. The journey is hard, but it’s a rewarding one,” he says, “The euphoric little moments you get from hitting new milestones just keep you going.”
Even if you’re a kook, the Island of the Gods is a perennial favourite that offers different strokes for different folks. So whether you’re coming to Bali in search of phenomenal training, perfect waves, or to live on $1 chicken rice, you won’t be disappointed. But those in search of something special will find it in the family-like community at the gym. It’s the honey at the centre of the buzzing hive, and you might find yourself staying to lap it up.