LEGEND FC 11 Snapshot: An Interview with Hanif ‘The Predator’ Zainal

Malaysia’s own Hanif Zainal steps onto the world stage at Legend FC 11 on April 27, 2013 in front of his home crowd in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

In the lead-up to his fight with Chinese Taipei fighter Rocky Lee at Legend FC 11 in Kuala Lumpur’s Chin Woo Stadium on April 27, Malaysian local boy Hanif Zainal sat down with John Merva of MMA-in-ASIA to talk about his martial arts background, his next opponent, and the development of MMA in his home country of Malaysia.

Could you explain what got you into martial arts in general and MMA in particular?

I first become interested in Taekwondo when I was about 5 years old. Ever since then I have been competing in tournaments until I injured myself when I was 19. Before the injury, when I was 17, I started training Muay Thai as well as starting in BJJ by rolling with friends using moves we learned from YouTube. After my recovery from the injury I started my MMA training.

What has inspired and driven you on your journey in MMA?

My journey has still been quite short as I’ve only really been training for about a year and a half, but it certainly has been eventful. I have had 9 fights in just one year and I consider myself someone who will fight anyone that’s put in front of me. I don’t worry too much about winning or losing – it’s all part of the journey.

Please talk about your opponent – are there any particular weaknesses you’ve noticed or danger areas? How do you intend to overcome them?

He seems to be a good BJJ player but I don’t know much about his striking. I’m still working on my ground game so I think I’ll be keeping this one safely on the feet.

In one sentence or phrase, how would you describe your style?

Technical. I’m definitely a technical and strategic fighter.

Is there a lot of extra pressure involved in fighting here on your home ground in Malaysia?

First of all I feel really proud to be fighting in my hometown and I know there will be a lot of Malaysians out to support me. This gave me a lot more motivation for my training and the fight. I don’t want to disappoint them so there’s definitely some extra pressure.

What have you learned since your last fight in Legend?

Well, for my first fight in Legend I had less than three weeks to prepare and had only been training in MMA for about six months. I just jumped in the ring with heart and whatever I could. I’ve got a lot more training under my belt since then and, whilst I’m not saying I’ve mastered everything, I definitely feel I will have a much better fight this time.

With three wins in a row under your belt, do you feel that the momentum will buoy you going into Legend 11?

Every fight is a different fight and I always create new gameplans so I don’t really think that the momentum will help me that much. I’m always looking forward and I’ll have a new strategy for each of my future fights. I’m working hard on wrestling at the moment and hopefully I’ll do well in that area.

Please tell us about any fighters in particular who have inspired you in your career.

A lot actually, I don’t really follow the lives of any UFC fighters, but here in Asia there are a lot of fighters I have followed, such as Will Chope, Mark Striegl, Peter Davis, Arnaud Lepont, Luc Rousseau, Eric Kelly, Matt Pellino and Melvin Yeoh, They each have their own journey and I’m inspired by them.

What is your opinion of the Malaysian MMA scene at the moment?

MMA in Malaysia is still growing. I’m not saying that I am a particularly high level fighter yet, but all the hype here in Malaysia can make people get in over their heads. There is a lot of strength and heart here in Malaysia with some really talented fighters and some may be better than me, but they need to lessen the drama. However, fighters really are improving and we definitely have a lot of quick learners!  In the next five years you will definitely see high level fighters from Malaysia and in the next ten years, you might even see one or two guys in the UFC.

What does the future hold for you?

The future? Honestly I don’t see any UFC belts or title shots for now, maybe even never, but what I do believe is that I will be remembered and respected as a fighter. I dream of one day opening my own gym – a quality one!

Is there anyone you would like to thank?

I would like to thank all those who have supported me: my family, my girlfriend, my best friend since high school Ganageas, my buddy Ajim, all my friends from Wangsa Maju warriors, my coach Chet, Will Chope and Mike, my training partner Sam Chan, and last but not least my team; Titans Fight Team. Also a big thank you to my sponsors Collision Fightwear, Jaded, Potosan Corner and WDC Nutrition.