By Mathew Scott in Tokyo
Panicos Yusuf was looking battered and bruised but nothing would take the smile away from his face on Sunday as Cyprus’ two-time world Muay Thai champion picked up a unanimous points decision over Malaysia’s Mohammed Bin Mahmoud in Tokyo.
“I got a poke in the eye, and elbow to the back of the head and a few hits in the privates … but I’m happy,” said Yusuf.
Yusuf’s bout was part of a 15-fight One: A New Era card billed as the biggest combat sports event yet held in Asia. It put four of the Singapore-based promotion’s world mixed martial arts titles up for grabs and also featured the debuts of former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) world champions Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson and Eddie ‘The Underground King’ Alvarez.
“You know I am living the dream coming out here and fighting on the same card as so many stars,” said Yusuf. “It shows how far martial arts can take you these days it’s just phenomenal and it’s something to tell the grandkids.”
One has also been fleshing out its fight cards with a Super Series of stand-up bouts and the 33-year-old, Limassol-born Yusuf boosted his record to 2-1 over the past 12 months – and 38-6 all-time in Muay Thai – with the victory.
It came after a gruelling three rounds where Yusuf had to brush off a few illegal blows, both to the head and down below the belt. He admitted to being dazed and slightly confused by the unwanted attention but stuck to his style of marching ever forward. Yusuf also landed enough telling blows in close to ensure the result was never really in doubt.
“He was a great opponent and a respectful opponent and I’m happy with the win but disappointed I didn’t do more,” said Yusuf. “I’m still seeing double vision and I couldn’t judge my distances. I thought he was there but he wasn’t there. But to win and to be part of such a huge event is an honour and a thrill. When I heard Tokyo was announced I thought it would be amazing but I never thought I’d be on it.”
The London-based fighter is working his way towards title contention with the One group, having seen his first opponent in Chinese fighter Han Zi Hao have a crack a belt-holder Nong-O Gaiyanghadao after Yusuf had beaten him in September last year.
“Han Zi Hao deserved that title fight as an up and coming fighter,” said Yusuf. “But we’ve got a few things in the pipeline and there are promising things on the horizon.”
One has searched the globe for fighters to bring out to Asia as it expands its cards now to almost weekly, and continues to combine a wide range of martial arts. Yusuf said he was proud to be given the call at a stage in his life when he had even contemplated stepping away from the ring, and taking life a bit more quietly.
“I’ve been doing this for 19 years and you know what, the day they stop paying me is the day I stop fighting,” he said. “Seriously though I represent Cyprus officially but my mother is from the Philippines, by father is Turkish-Cypriot, I’ve been living in the United Kingdom for half my life so I feel like I am representing all those places and all these people,” said Yusuf.
“I get support from all those countries and even more and that just makes me so proud.”
Yusuf was then off to receive work on his cuts and bruises and sat back with the fans inside Tokyo’s historic Ryogoku Kokugikan as the rest of the night played out.
“You know the amazing thing is there are no egos in One,” said Yusuf. “There are guys here with millions of followers and they are just normal like me. Nobody looking down on you. I’m just thrilled to be able to come out here and fight.”