Fighting Families in ONE: The Subba Brothers

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Some fighters come into martial arts as a means of survival while others just have it in their blood to fight. No matter what situation they’re in or what station in life they have, it’s impossible for them to refuse the siren call to train and compete.

This is especially true when you have Gurkha blood and were raised with a Boleh soul. This is the story of the Subba brothers.

From YouTube Punks to Fighters

Keanu and Gianni Subba
Keanu (Left) and Gianni (Right) Subba via New Strait Times.

The martial arts journey began when their father enrolled them in a taekwondo class when Gianni was 11 and Keanu was 10. In an interview with The New Strait Times their father explained that they “wanted them to get into martial arts because it instills discipline, loyalty, respect…”

This decision did the trick as both brothers were sent to the US for their high school education. With both parents half the world away, it would have been easy for Gianni (15) and Keanu (13) to get into some wild hi-jinks. But they graduated with little to no issue.

This was the time when MMA and the UFC were starting to go mainstream and when the Subba brothers discovered that their thirst for martial arts was still strong. Though they didn’t have any money to actually join a gym, they bought a couple of 12 oz. gloves and learned from YouTube.

Out of the two of them it was Keanu that got the first crack at actually competing in the sport they both love. After going back to Malaysia to take care of their cousin, Keanu was able to devote all his time to training.

Rising Stars of Malaysian MMA

Ev Ting, The Subba brothers, Agilan Thani, Ann Osman
(Left to Right) Ev Ting, The Subba brothers, Agilan Thani, Ann Osman via New Strait Times.

Keanu first fought as a professional in 2011. The first time he got serious attention though was when he fought in the Malaysia Invasion MMA (MIMMA) Featherweight Tournament in 2013.

He went through the tournament like a burning truck to face another undefeated fighter in Muhammad Ikram. The then 18-year old wasn’t fazed in the slightest as he annihilated Ikram in less than 30 seconds.

Keanu would return to MIMMA a year later to defend his title against 6-foot Joshua Kiew. For the second time the fighter that thought of himself more as a wrestler finished a fight via TKO in the first round.

But Gianni was the one who introduced their family on the international stage. After finishing high school, Gianni went to Hawaii to attend college for a year and kept up his training. After hearing of his brother’s forays into professional MMA, he went back to KL to train full time and join his brother.

Unlike Keanu though, he went straight to the biggest stage available to him and signed with ONE to fight Bruce Loh at ONE: Rise of Kings. He just needed little over half a minute to end the fight with a left hook and soccer kick combo.

Gianni would somewhat match his brother’s accomplishments in 2013 by going undefeated the entire year. Keanu would join his brother in ONE in 2015 and go on a run of his own.

Gianni is currently 9-3 with wins over Ruel Catalan and former title challenger Riku Shibuya. Keanu meanwhile has a 7-4 record with victories over Ahmed Mujtaba, Chao Xie, and Phoe Thaw.

But where are they now?

When Stars Dim

Reece McLaren choking out Gianni Subba
Reece McLaren choking out Gianni Subba via Conan Daily.

Even MMA fans who only recently started paying attention to ONE know who the Subba brothers are. But they seemed to drop off the radar.

Unfortunately, we likely won’t see either of the Subba brothers any time soon.

In 2018, Gianni was to fight a redemption seeking Ma Hao Bin at ONE: Destiny of Champions. The Malaysian was looking to rebound himself after dropping a fight to Reece McLaren earlier that year.

But after undergoing a CT scan for his medical clearance the doctors discovered a congenital cyst in his brain. This led to a medical suspension and although two neurologists cleared him to fight, a return to the cage is unclear.

Keanu would suffer nearly the same fate some months later.

Keanu’s latest fight against Ryogo Takahashi at ONE: For Honor last year was supposed to be the one that put him into title contention. But it ended up taking the worst possible turn.

Both fighters were looking good at the start of the bout. Ryogo was softening up Keanu with leg kicks, but the young Subba was landing combinations on the chin of the Japanese. The fight was a high energy affair that promised more than a few highlights.

But after throwing a low kick, Keanu suddenly fell back and Ryogo jumped on him with ground and pound. Referee Kemp Cheng didn’t have a choice but to jump in and end it.

It seemed that Keanu broke his leg when Takahashi checked the kick – Weidman/Silva II style.

What made it worse was that Gianni was alongside Mitch Chilson at the commentators table calling the fight. He had to see his brother’s shin snap, watch paramedics carry him off on a stretcher, listen to Chilson sing the praises of the guy that did the damage, and stay in his chair for the rest of the night.

Subba Boleh

Keanu and Gianni Subba
Keanu and Gianni Subba via Ash Be Nimble.

Despite these setbacks, both of the Subba brothers remain optimistic that they will return. Both of them have said in separate interviews that their main priority is to keep training and prepare for their return to competition.

The MMA gods have undoubtedly dealt them a terrible hand. But it’s not anything they can’t overcome. Keanu’s leg will heal and it would be interesting how he copes with the Featherweight landscape right now.

There’s no timeline or return date for Keanu as he broke his tibia and fibula. Everyone is eagerly awaiting his return to the cage once he can get back to the gym to train.

On the other hand, Gianni seems to settle in nicely with the commentator crew for ONE Warrior Series, though his goal is to keep fighting in the cage.

I haven’t been able to compete, but I’m training and getting better. Hopefully, there’ll be good news in December. I have my eyes on a couple of guys in the division. Failing which, I’m sure there are a lot of doors that I can open. We’ll see

Gianni Subba, 2019

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