There is no other way to describe the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) other than overwhelmingly brutal.
In an arena where, on average, an athlete’s career only lasts about five years, where the risk of game-ending injuries come with every strike, the stakes have never been higher. Yet the sport, made popular by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), is still growing exponentially. In the UFC’s last big match, Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov garnered a jaw-dropping 2.4 million pay-per-view buys around the globe.
Some look to MMA to find glory, others see it as a way to build a better life for themselves and their families. The story of Sangkar revolves around two competitive MMA athletes who fight to escape their life of poverty. Adding star power to the film, these two rivals will be played by the country’s top action heroes, Zul Ariffin and Remy Ishak. Naturally, their characters hate each other as rivals often do, but when tragedy befalls one of them, they gradually become friends.
Whatever the motivation may be, the road to the top is still riddled with massive hurdles and challenges to overcome. Much in the same way Fadlan Hazim, an up- and-coming Malaysian actor, has had to fight hard to get to where he is today. In his latest supporting role as Hafiz in Sangkar, Hazim shares with Augustman the first-hand experience of transforming himself into an MMA fighter. Albeit without much of the over-the-top violence that is often associated with the sport.
When I met Hazim last month, it had already been a year since they wrapped up filming for Sangkar. In it, he plays a supporting role, portraying Hafiz, a professional MMA fighter who is also involved in illegal street fights to make some extra cash. Hafiz is also considered a good friend to Zul Ariffin’s character, often helping him to train and offering support at ringside.
Although the role was a supporting one, Hazim tells me the road to Sangkar was still anything but easy. “When I first went to meet with Kabir, I was quite a skinny guy. So he told me that I needed to buff up as in the movie I was going to be one of the fighters in the heavyweight division. I was about 72kg at the time and I needed to be around 90kg”
“You just have to believe in yourself, and act out the role in your own way.”
“I had to prepare for this role for almost a year. I hit the gym almost six days a week. Every morning I woke up at 6.30 am so I can have breakfast before 7 am,” Hazim continues. In order to build his body to that state, he was consuming about 5,000 calories a day. And instead of training just to fit the aesthetic image, Hazim tells me that he actually mimicked the diet and training of professional MMA fighters. He was so dedicated to fully embodying the role that he even sustained injuries during one of his training sessions. “Zul got injured, Remy got injured. And it was during these prep sessions that we realised it was not easy to be a professional fighter and this really helped mould us into the characters.” Talk about being committed.
Commitment, however, is a big pressure point for Hazim. In an earlier interview he gave Utusan Online, he mentioned not being greedy and taking all the roles that are thrown his way. And his reason for this is: “I plan to stay in this industry for a very long time. There are some actors who will just accept any role because it’s a chance to make money, but sometimes they are not even sure that they can play the role well. What ends up happening is that they will then look bad on-screen which may prohibit casting directors from offering them future roles.” So in order to preserve the longevity of his career, Hazim always ensures that he is confident in playing a role before accepting it.
“I grew up watching Jacky Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme films. And I remember thinking, one day, I am going to be like them.”
The role in Sangkar, on the other hand, was a no-brainer for Hazim. Simply put, he lives for action movies. “I grew up watching Jacky Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme films. And I remember thinking, one day, I am going to be like them.” And true enough, it was an action movie – the 2014 film Sniper – that kickstarted Hazim’s career as an actor. “Action films are my priority. It is my real passion. It can be action dramas or action comedies, as long as it involves action.” Of course with action movies, a more physically demanding workday will follow suit. Just as an example, Hazim says typically for a drama shoot they can complete two or three dialogue scenes in a day. “But for Zul’s final fight scene, we needed four days of shooting.”
If having to faux-fight Ariffin on screen isn’t challenging enough, Hazim also has to ensure that his performance in the movie doesn’t get lost between the two greats in the film – Zul Ariffin and Remy Ishak. Not to mention there is also a special cameo by a real English MMA fighter, James McSweeney. “You just have to believe in yourself, and act out the role in your own way,” Hazim answers when I ask how he plans to stand out. “Some newcomers when they act with bigger stars, they try to emulate the big names. But after a while, this can sometimes appear quite fake.”
Before wrapping up, I asked Hazim if he had any advice for the newcomers to the industry seeing as how he has been in the business since 2010. “My advice for budding actors would be to watch a lot of films and also take some acting classes. I started as an actor with no formal training, mostly as an extra or a stuntman in some cases. I learnt quite a lot by just being on set. However, it was when I started landing bigger roles that I realised that I needed to take some acting classes. By learning the basics it helped me with the mental preperation of a role.”
Apart from that, he says social media has also become an incredibly important tool in the industry. “It was challenging for me to be more active on social media as I am not the kind of guy who likes to share his private life.” Today, on the behest of his manager, Hazim is quite active on his social media giving his fans a sneak peek on the sets and also sharing what he does on his days off. “I have seen actors in Malaysia with great talent but they are not really active on social media and so they can’t achieve more. Nowadays social media is really important. Everybody is hungry for content.”
Sangkar, directed by the award-winning Kabir Bhatia and produced by Infinitus Productions and Primeworks Studios, is out in cinemas now.