By Ryan McKinnon
Zubair Khan’s road to the Pan Ams is quite storied by comparison to his nine Canadian teammates; after all, he began competing before many of them were even born. That’s quite a thing to consider, and it isn’t something the 38 year-old had disregarded before flying to Buenos Aires. Outside of the ring he is a family man with four children who remind him how blessed he is each day to be a father. He is a mentor to countless pupils, athletes and fighters through his gym, Warrior Muay Thai. He has a full-time career outside of the sport, and yet he continues to be a positive role model in the community, and one of our finest ambassadors of Canadian Muaythai to the world. Amidst all of the roles he happily fills on a daily basis, there is the competitor. The one who seeks out the thrill of challenge through physical competition and a test of wills; a physical game of chess at the highest level. It is this person who chose to fulfill a promise he made to himself, that one day he would return to competition. Not for glory or a coveted prize. He chose it because it is part of his identity.
Years after his last bout, Zubair knew that the 2018 Pan Ams represented a monumental challenge. He didn’t take a ‘tune up’ bout to shake off the rust. He registered for the National Championship but didn’t have anyone in his division to test him. He told Muaythai Canada he wanted to return to the sport that he has dedicated more than half his life to; a decision not something most people would dare to attempt. But Zubair Khan isn’t most people; he is a former national champion, with a resume that many of his teammates hope to rival some day. He has bled, and sweat, and cried in and out of the gym. He has been in tough situations in the ring, which shaped who he became outside of the ring. Even his athletes look to him as a standard upon which they measure their young careers, both in and out of the sport.
However, the game has changed so much since his last appearance in the ring. He remembers the days when having 9 bouts to your name made you a big deal. Now athletes are starting earlier. They are better conditioned and better educated. They have a serious respect for diet and exercise science, and have become bigger, stronger and faster competitors because of it. With his current level of conditioning Zubair determined that he might be good enough to surprise the opponent’s in his division if he played his cards right.
On day two of the Pan Am Championship, Zubair Khan made his long awaited return to amateur Muaythai in the 81kg division versus Miguel Padilla of Mexico, and all of Canada was with him. Almost immediately, Zubair’s experience began to show. He looked loose, even though he admits to feeling a little scared in the moments before his name was called to enter the ring. He wasn’t rushing the action. Instead, he took his time to measure the southpaw with his lead hand, and began looking for patterns in his opponent’s offence to exploit when the time was right. He was defensively strong, using head movement well to avoid the boxing techniques of the young Mexican. After the first rear kick from his opponent, Zubair made a mental note of the power his rival possessed.
Khan used his footwork and angles to stay off the ropes, then landed his first cross at 2:20 of the first round. He had started to see the openings in his opponent’s defence and almost trips Padilla by attacking his lead leg when he started to blitz. An accidental strike to the groin of Zubair thirty seconds later slowed down the tempo momentarily. Once action resumed, Zubair appeared to be looking for a way to time his cross. His head movement looked great as he slipped and rolled away from the Mexicans hand combinations, landing a lead hook + lead uppercut combination of his own.
A step-through left knee would land for Zubair , and another lead hook, which seemed to stun his opponent slightly. As he attempted a rear uppercut close to the ropes, Zubair got caught with a short right hook from Padilla, which gave the Mexican just enough time to throw his rear kick flush with Zubair’s body. And that was it. Zubair Khan’s experience at the Pan Ams would end there. That’s how fast things can happen in a fight.
While he didn’t have the triumphant return many had hoped for, Zubair Khan’s journey with Muaythai is far from over. Though he admits that his body conditioning was not up to par, and although he did not achieve the results he had hoped for in Argentina, he succeeded in proving to himself and fans that he still has the passion to compete in a sport he has shared with the Canadian Muaythai community for over 2 decades. Thanks to his efforts and achievements, both past and present, Zubair continues to be an inspiration to Canadian nak muay, regardless of age and experience. Only he knows what the future holds for his career, but if one thing is for certain, he still has a lot of fight left in him.
Ryan McKinnon is the host of The Bloody Ballet Podcast and website, found at www.thebloodyballet.com.