Masjedul Reza Omeo is not your average 17-year-old teenager.
In a country where cricket is all the rage in sports, Omeo has been working at making a career in Muay Thai.
He has already made a bright start here with gold medals in the inaugural Muay Thai tournament and then the International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) Asian Championship.
He spoke in detail with The Business Standard (TBS) about his journey, challenges and the future of Muay Thai in Bangladesh.
"I was watching a movie in 2014 called 'Ong Bak' and I was really impressed. I immediately made up my mind to pursue Muay Thai. I searched on Google and found a gym literally next to my house about which I did not know. I did Taekwondo at school but it didn't feel natural to me. I tried a lot of sports there but Muay Thai attracted me the most," Omeo says.
He explains that gyms that teach Muay Thai are not easy to come by but now there is a gym that finally the Bangladesh Muay Thai Federation opened up: "The only gym where people could train for Muay Thai was VO2. Recently the federation opened its own gym which is also in a way or other associated with VO2."
Omeo spoke about the first-ever Muay Thai tournament in Bangladesh where he won gold, and how that took him to the IFMA Asian Muay Thai Championship.
"The first national Muay Thai tournament in Bangladesh was held in 2019. I participated in that tournament and won gold. Then I was given a one-month notice to get myself ready to participate in the IFMA Asian Muay Thai Championship. IFMA is the biggest platform for Muay Thai."
Omeo, despite never taking part in an international tournament, had faith in himself to do well: "As I was constantly training, I was confident. In that tournament, Bangladesh was probably the only country with only two participants. But one of them won gold."
He chuckles as he talks about the challenges he faced in that tournament and how he overcame them, a sign of his positive attitude and exuberance of youth.
"The funniest part is that I won gold in 63.5 kg category which is not my regular one. I used to compete in the 59 kg category. But I was a bit overweight because of my exams and it was difficult to lose this much weight within such a short time as I was given a one-month notice. So I had to deal with fighters heavier and stronger than me."
Omeo detailed on his strategy to victory in the IFMA Asian Muay Thai Championship despite being overweight and having to face opponents bigger and older than him.
"Basically the Muay Thai fighters are used to throwing kicks every now and then because the kicks earn more points. As I was a little overweight, kicking was not the best option for me because it could exhaust me and hurt my stamina. So I decided to stick to punching in order to knock the opponents out. In the first round of the finals, I planned to use this tactic but failed. In the second round, my Lebanese opponent threw a spinning back fist and I did the same. The difference was, my defence was good and his wasn't. So it did not affect me much but his nose shattered. I was losing in terms of points but as his bleeding was not stopping, it was a technical knockout."
Although Omeo didn't have his parents or other Bangladeshi's to cheer him on during his gold medal win, he had plenty of support from the foreign fans: "There was some 50 Lebanese participants and officials. They were all cheering for my opponent. When I won the tussle, they went silent and some Iranian participants, as well as our officials, started cheering for me. That was some moment!"
With Muay Thai still in its infancy in Bangladesh, making a career and living out of it may not be possible, but Omeo sees light at the end of the tunnel: "If I am to rate it out of 10, I would say we are dead in the middle at five. But I am 110% sure that the sport will boom. If someone takes interest in the pure form of fighting, then Muay Thai is correct for that person. And if 1% of our total population participates, it will be a great achievement for us."
Omeo though feels that the Muay Thai federation sponsors are doing a good job so far and with their support, the popularity will grow in the country: "Bangladesh has been very lucky to have a great sponsor in the United Group. Without their help, the progress in Muay Thai in Bangladesh wouldn't have been possible."
He also thanks his coach Asif Mahmud for training him. Asif, who has been training for more than 30 years has played a major role in helping Omeo develop as a Muay Thai fighter.
Growing up, Omeo explains that he was a very restless kid and would get himself into trouble. So him picking up Muay Thai was a blessing for him and his parents, who have supported him in his journey so far.
"Actually my parents were happy to see me engaged in sports. Because I was hyperactive as a child and used to break things. So when I found out about the sport, I literally started to spend all my energy on it. I used to have no energy left to break things (laughs). So yes, there wasn't any objection from my family."
Omeo explains what his daily routine is to stay fit and improve his skills: "I've always been an 'early to bed and early to rise' guy. I am used to jogging in the morning. It is an underrated thing but it has helped me a lot in terms of increasing my stamina."
Having already won gold in the Asian Championship, Omeo plans to do the same in the World Championship. He also wants to help Bangladesh win a gold medal in the Olympics.
"I have a very simple plan. I won the Asian Championship and my next stop is the World Championship. I had the thought that if I could win the World Championship, the sport would attract more sponsors. Muay Thai will be included in the Olympic Games in the edition after the next one. I want to represent Bangladesh in that. I had a plan to train in a foreign country which has been on hold due to Covid-19. My plan remains more or less the same but the progress has been slowed down by the pandemic."