Israeli Muay Thai Champion a Star in Malaysia
Ilya Grad becomes only Israeli to ever enter Southeastern Asian country, wave flag of Israel and leave in one piece
Ilya Grad, 24, made history when he became the first Israeli to enter Malaysia, after receiving special permission from the country's Muslim authorities, in order to participate in a national TV reality show on boxing.
Grad, a former Israeli Muay Thai champion, the 2010 Asia champion and the second runner-up in the world championship, has been living and training in Thailand for the past four years. He has already won 38 competitions, and lost only nine times.
Malaysian television station AXN recently invited 16 of the world's best boxers to participate in a reality show called "The Challenger Muaythai". They live in the same house, eat and train together, and in the evenings they fight in a ring in front of the cameras.
Grad was nicknamed "Achilles" and had the honor of representing Israel in a country which legally bans the entry of Israelis.
"My friends and family asked if I was crazy when I just received the invitation," he recalls. "They asked why would I want to do it, told me not to go and warned that I could get in trouble. But I decided that I wanted to do it because of the sportive challenge and in order to be the first person to wave the flag of Israel there."
Despite the producers' promise to guarantee his safety, when Grad landed in the Kuala Lumpur airport he was detained for 25 hours and wasn't allowed to enter the country until the Malaysian sports minister personally intervened.
The Israeli boxer was eventually allowed to enter the country and received a special visa, but his passport was not stamped.
"When I wanted to start the first fight, the producers demanded that I carry a flag of Russia, the country I was born in. It was absurd, and I explained to them that if I was forced to do that I would fly back home immediately," he says. "They eventually gave in and waved our flag on prime time TV."
The local audience was not as enthusiastic, responding with booing and loud roars.
'One step forward toward a life of peace'
At the end of the fight, the two Malaysian judges declared the French boxer the winner. The Thai judge, on the other hand, ruled that the Israeli had won, but after consulting the other judges it was decided that Grad has lost the battle.
"The basically stole the fight, but I was comforted when I left the ring and was approached by many Malaysians who apologized for booing and said that I was the real winner," he says.
Despite his loss, the production asked Grad to stay on till the end of the competition, likely due to the great amount of interest he raised.
"I left Malaysia with mixed feelings," Grad says. "The fact that I was allowed to enter Malaysia took us one step forward toward a life of peace, and yet I felt like I was behind enemy lines. But I can say for sure that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me."
This article is reprinted from Ynet with permission.