Meet the Malaysian Brothers Who Are Taking The Mixed Martial Arts World By Storm

Left to right: Peter Hugh-Davis, Keanu Subba, Agilan Thani and Gianni Subba

If you take in the Gurkha fighter spirit and mix it with Malaysia Boleh soul, you’ll get the Subba brothers. Born in Oahu, Hawaii to a Malaysian-Chinese mother and Nepali father, Gianni Subba,25, and Keanu Subba,24, slowly but surely rising the ranks within the martial arts arena  Both brothers spent their early years in Nepal before spending their primary and early teen years in Malaysia (they speak malay, english and mandarin) before moving permanently to the US. True blue Malaysians at heart the boys currently represent Malaysia as professional MMA fighters with ONE Championship, the world’s largest martial arts organisations, with Keanu Subba, set to compete in the featherweight category this Friday (12 July 2018) at the Axiata Arena, Bukit Jalil. 

We speak to Keanu and Gianni on why their love of MMA and their favourite Malaysian food…

Brotherly support. Image credit: Gianni Subba's Facebook Page

1.Tell us a bit about your background.
We were born in Oahu Hawaii, moved to Nepal for one year when Gianni was 3 and Keanu was 1, because our grandpa fell ill, then moved to KL where we lived until Gianni was 15 and Keanu 13 – moved to the US for high school. 

2. Prior to MMA, were active in sports? What other sports were you involved in? 
We’ve always been very active as kids, our dad always took the time to take us to Basketball courts or Football fields on the weekends. 
Keanu: I played a lot of Basketball as a kid in primary school, Football for fun with our friends from the neighbourhood. 
Gianni: I used to play a lot of Basketball in school, while waiting for my mom to pick me up from school, (she’d usually come an hour- hour half after school because of work) I’d just shoot and play matches, we both played Basketball and Football for our school teams. 

3. How old were you when you started martial arts? 
I was about 10 And Keanu was 8 when we started doing Taekwondo. Then we transitioned into boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai when we moved to the US for high school.

4. What inspired you to pursue MMA? & how different is it compared to single discipline sports?
We’ve both always wanted to compete in MMA.
Gianni: I think watching Keanu compete when he was 16, and do well, gave me this validation that we could do it, and after that I always trained with the goal of fighting one day. K- Our late Cousin Clement, was an inspiration for me to start fighting, he knew we had both been training and said he wanted to come watch us compete, so when the opportunity came up I jumped in. It was the only match he got to watch before he passed away. 

5. What do you love about MMA?
: I love that it’s really like a game of human chess, it’s very technical. Most times the most intelligent fighter is the one that wins.
Gianni: I get to challenge myself, to test my skills against another world class athlete, and also I really enjoy tracking progress and seeing the improvements. 

Keanu and Gianni at the recent ONE Open Workout in LOT 10.

6. Were your parents supportive of your decision to take up MMA? 
They were both hesitant at first, warned us about injuries and how it’s not a sustainable career. But throughout the years they’ve seen how dedicated we are, and how hard we work. Now that we both can comfortably fight and not worry, they are our biggest supporters!

7. How often do you train? 
We train 6 days a week, 2-3 times a day, 3-5 hours.

8. How do you prepare mentally?
In the beginning of our careers we’d only tell ourselves to trust our training and just be brave. But now we have worked with sports psychologist, the biggest thing that we learned was visualisation, and anchoring our confidence.

9. What is your pre-fight diet like?
3-4 weeks out from a fight we start to eat really clean, everything is fuel for our bodies that work really hard. Clean carbs like brown rice, quinoa, lots of protein and veg, just really nutrient dense foods. We stay away from anything processed and full of artificial additives. 

10. MMA involves a mixture of 2 or more types of Martial arts. What other types of Martial art did you take up? 
Gianni: I really enjoy boxing and wrestling, incorporating Flashy kicks and knees in there, have to have some finesse!
Keanu: Muay Thai and Bjj, but I throw lots of punches as well.

11. What do you guys enjoy doing during your free time outside the mats/ring?
Keanu: I like to travel, watch movies, and try different restaurants, my Girlfriend and I are big foodies.
Gianni: I really enjoy  travelling as well, I try to go to 2 places I’ve never been to each year. I also like cooking and trying new recipes. 

Never take shortcuts, do all the hard things so that when the opportunity comes you will be well prepared. 
-Keanu Subba-

The ever supportive Subba family. Image credit: Gianni Subba Facebook Page
With dad. Image credit: Gianni Subba Facebook Page

12. Gianni, how did you feel when your brother wanted to become an MMA fighter too?
Actually Keanu started competing before me haha, I just got into One Championship, a world class Organization before he did. So when he signed with them I already knew he was ready. 

13. Keanu, how did Gianni inspire you?
Gianni works hard, and is very dedicated, he reminds me that we are world class Athletes, and to believe in myself.

14. Why would you encourage our youth to take up martial arts? What advice can you give them?
I think every parent should enrol their kids in a martial art, because it teaches values like, discipline, hard work, and patience. Don’t be intimidated, join a gym or club, we promise you will make friends who will be positive influences to you! 

15. What do you hope to see in the future of martial arts in Malaysia
More open gyms, where martial artists can go to other gyms on certain days and train together. So they can learn and exchange techniques and skills, and also more coaches who volunteer to teach the younger generation to build a strong community on the grass roots level. 

16. Who is your favourite MMA athlete and why?
Gianni: I like Dominick Cruz’s style, Keanu and Ev ting are my favourite Malaysian Athletes 
Keanu: Max Holloway, Agilan Thani, Ev ting, and Gianni haha.


 1 % better Everyday, doesn’t matter if you’re doing the same boring thing over again, there’s always room for improvement.
– Gianni Subba –

17. Just for fun, what are your favourite fight entrance songs? 
Keanu: Grits – My Life Be Like, and The XX – Intro instrumental. 
Gianni: Jay Z – Run This Town, and Damien Marley – Welcome to Jamrock. 

18. Do you guys have a favourite quote/motto that you live by?
 1 % better Everyday, doesn’t matter if you’re doing the same boring thing over again, there’s always room for improvement. 
Keanu: Never take shortcuts, do all the hard things so that when the opportunity comes you will be well prepared. 

19. Having grown up in Malaysia and having a Malaysian mum, we are sure you guys love Malaysian food. What is your favourite must have post-fight Malaysian dish or your favourite Malaysian dish in general.
Keanu: Have to go to Sambal Hijau, favourite dish is Nasi Lemak with good rendang! 
Gianni: Tough, tough question, I would have to say chicken rice, and char kuey Teow! 

20. What do you guys hope to achieve in the future as MMA artists?
 Our goals are to be world champions in our divisions.

Image credit: YK Tang Photography

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ash be nimble is an online journal that focuses on sharing real and relatable fitness stories of everyday Malaysians! We are your one stop guide to everything sports, fitness & health. If you have an inspiring story to share? Write to us at


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