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Sambo athlete Nazri Sutari's unconventional journey to the SEA Games

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The multi-sport athlete progressed from the national junior fencing team to Singapore's SEA Games sambo squad.

At 14 years old, aspiring fencer Nazri Sutari already had his sights on qualifying for the SEA Games.

Now at 29, he's finally achieving his childhood dreams, albeit in a completely different sport of sambo; an abstruse Soviet martial art.

"I pinched myself when I found out I qualified! I had to calm myself down," he candidly told Youth.SG during his interview at Impact MMA Gym, where he trains regularly and teaches Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Muay Thai.

This month, Nazri will be among the eight Sambo athletes representing Singapore in the 2019 SEA Games in Manila, Philippines.

Foundations in Fencing

Fencing was Nazri's first venture in his sport career. Having pursued it for almost a decade, he made the national junior team at 18, and participated in the 2010 Southeast Asian Championships at 20 years old.

But fencing took a halt when he enlisted for National Service (NS), where his inability to compete lost him his fencing rankings and position in the national team.

Fencing-southeastasian-championship
Saber fencer Nazri (second row, second from left) and his fencing team won a silver medal at the 2010 Southeast Asian Championships.
  PHOTO CREDIT: NAZRI SUTARI

He said: "At that point in time, I knew I would never make it to SEA Games [with fencing]. So I thought, 'okay lah, give up.'"

The makings of a skilled martial artist

But leaving behind his fencing career didn't stop Nazri from venturing into other sports.

"I learned Muay Thai as a CCA in poly, and that made me want to compete. I always liked fighting," he said cheerfully. 

His love for combat sports eventually led him to grapple into several other sports, such as boxing, wrestling, sanda, kickboxing and sambo, to name a few.

This allowed him to compete in even more competitions than if he had only specialised in one sport.

"The trend in martial arts is that everyone cross trains. You can stick to one sport, but I have this idea that a fighter, a martial artist, should be able to do anything," he explained. 

pro-mma-fight
Nazri competed in his first Pro-MMA fight in Hong Kong in 2018.
PHOTO CREDIT: NAZRI SUTARI

His multi-sport training eventually paid off, as Nazri emerged champion in the 'U81kg Men's Senior Low Kick' category at the Singapore Kickboxing Championships 2019. He went on to secure a ranking of 17th at World Level, after competing in the 2019 WAKO Senior World Kickboxing Championships in October, held in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The petite athlete said: "I have good footwork and speed from fencing. Even though my opponents are taller and bigger, I have an exclusive power from fencing to make up for it."

His reputation in the ring also led him to more opportunities to compete, such as being called last minute to participate in the SEA Games qualifier for sambo, a mere four weeks before it was held.

He was even on his 'off-season' then, weighing a 'fat 84kg' - versus his normal 74kg weight – but managed to make the squad despite the odds.

"I was training actively then, but I was just eating a lot, eating happy," said Nazri about being in his "off-season". Against the odds, he managed to qualify for the SEA Games squad.

world-kickboxing-championship
Competing in the Senior World Kickboxing Championships in 2019 reignited Nazri's passion in sports.
PHOTO CREDIT: GOH SHUN WEI 

Overcoming challenges outside the ring

More than a decade since the start of his sports career, Nazri's dream of competing in the SEA Games is finally becoming a reality.

Thinking back of the long journey it has been, Nazri recalls some of the challenges he faced even outside of the ring.

He said: "Financial stability has always been one of the greatest battles. Back when the future was uncertain, I remember lying on my bed thinking whether I made the right choice, whether I could make it as an athlete.

"That fear has always been haunting me."

sambo-athlete-nazri-sutari
The full-time sportsman picked his "passion over a luxurious lifestyle". 
PHOTO CREDIT: RAYNARD ONG

Even now, Nazri admits it is still difficult to make his finances work, especially since he has less time to teach his kickboxing classes due to his training for the SEA Games.

Fortunately, with sponsors supporting his SEA Games training and nutrition, Nazri is finally seeing the "fruits of his labour".

multi-sport-athlete-sambo
In the beginning of his career, Nazri had considered switching careers to make ends meet but decided not to when he realised he wouldn't feel as accomplished.
PHOTO CREDIT: RAYNARD ONG 

While Nazri's hope for the SEA Games is to win a gold medal for Singapore, he acknowledges winning isn't the be all end all for him.

He said: "My biggest goal has always been about improving myself, being a better person and better martial artist.

"I do what I do because I like to fight and compete. Having the opportunity to represent the country is just a bonus."

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/RAYNARD ONG

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