Chasing their martial arts dreams to Singapore brought two friends together
Walk along the junction where Zion Road meets Seng Poh Road, and one will see the steel frame of a tent-like structure, which houses several rows of punching bags hanging from its ceiling.
This venue is the Juggernaut Fight Club, the brainchild of longtime boxing and martial arts veteran Arvind Lalwani. It is considered to be one of the gyms that helped jumpstart the growth of mixed martial arts in Singapore.
It was through countless hours spent training on the gym’s mats where a friendship between Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia and Rahul “The Kerala Krusher” Raju grew.
Coming from the US, Urrutia was pursuing his dreams of being a professional mixed martial artist in Asia. A path would open up shortly after he accepted an offer to become a trainer at Juggernaut.
The American quickly made an impact by competing in Lalwani’s promotion, Singapore Fighting Championship (SFC), and eventually winning the bantamweight title.
Raju’s journey was different.
When he first arrived in Singapore from Kerala, India in 2009, he was simply a student seeking out higher education and opportunity.
Despite facing initial struggles adjusting to a new environment, Raju quickly found refuge at Juggernaut, where he spent most of his time seeking out an alternative education in BJJ.
The two men would meet when the more experienced Urrutia took on Raju as his student, and “The Honey Badger” was quickly impressed by the Indian’s indomitable spirit and drive.
“I first started coaching Rahul in 2014, and right away from my first time sparring with him, I knew he was something special,” Urrutia recalls.
“Besides his physical attributes, what always stuck out to me was how mentally strong he was.”
Rahul is equally complimentary of his former teacher, who has since moved to Phuket, Thailand and now trains out of the renowned Tiger Muay Thai.
“I’ve never seen a person like him,” Raju admits.
"He’s like an energy booster, he brings a whole new level of energy to the people around him.”
It also struck the two men how similar they were mentally in their pursuit of mixed martial arts, which led to a growing respect.
“We are very similar in that we both refuse to give up. He has a lot of heart and he always pushes me to the maximum whenever we train together,” Raju says.
Urrutia says of Raju: “There’s only a select group of people who really have the ability to push past their comfort zones in training and really dig deep to put everything you have in practice. and Rahul is one of those people.”
So impressed was “The Honey Badger” that the teacher-pupil relationship quickly changed as the Indian became his main training partner.
“I always got better training with Rahul because he pushes me to my limit and we both bring out the best in each other,” the American explains.
“We both don’t like to quit, so whenever we spar, it often feels like a war,” Raju says with a laugh.
“Even though he was a smaller guy, he was always better. I had the privilege of having many great coaches that helped me, but Emilio impressed me the most — not just as a coach, but now as a friend.”
Urrutia left such an impression that "The Kerala Krusher" has now taken up the mantle of his former teacher, as he is now the head mixed martial arts and grappling coach at Juggernaut Fight Club.
Not only do they train together whenever “The Honey Badger” returns to Singapore, but now, they also compete in ONE Championship.
In addition to that, they can often be found supporting each other.
“For my last fight, he was there to corner me in Manila, and we were both able to meet Beverly Roach (founder of Diesel Diva Tribe),” Raju says.
"We officially became ambassadors for her 'peace through sports' movement, and it was really special to be able to share that with a good person and friend like Emilio.”
Their friendship could be used as proof that martial arts can not only spur personal development, but also foster positive and meaningful relationships.
From training together in Singapore to being co-representatives for a good cause, “The Honey Badger” and “The Kerala Krusher” will undoubtedly be by each other’s side as they chase their martial arts dreams.