How the fight for combat sports is being won

How the fight for combat sports is being won
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) contender Tarec Saffeidine from Belgium faces off against South Korean rising star Lim Hyun-Gyu.

NOT many would have been able to predict a few years ago that Singapore would grow into one of the leading lights of the fight scene in Asia, let alone the world.

While countries like Thailand and the Philippines have long histories of producing world-class athletes in combat sports, Singapore has quickly established itself with a series of mixed martial arts (MMA) and boxing shows, as well as gyms that are well-respected around the region.

The visit of US-based MMA market leaders the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to Marina Bay Sands on Saturday must be seen as the high point of that rapid rise through the ranks.

A sell-out crowd of 5,200 fans at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre watched Belgium's Tarec Saffiedine kick his way to a points victory over Korea's Lim Hyun Gyu in the main event of the 10-fight show.

It says a lot about the brand power of the UFC that so many supporters paid at least double the ticket price of Singapore-based organisation One Fighting Championship (One FC), especially as the card was devoid of the big names that the UFC is famous for. UFC fans in Singapore shelled out between $88 and $688 for Saturday's show while One FC tickets start at $38. Their events are held at Singapore Indoor Stadium and attract crowds of around 7,000.

Both organisations clearly work hard to make their events fan-friendly. The UFC posted fighters Jon Hathaway, from Britain, and South Korea's Kim Dong Hyun outside Saturday's show to drum up support for their welterweight clash at the Cotai Arena inside the The Venetian hotel in Macau on March 1. There was also a replica Octagon cage for fans to take pictures in along with the usual merchandise booths.

Some fans have questioned why a worldwide organisation like the UFC chose an arena that holds less than the Indoor Stadium, and there has been chatter about a possible future show at the new 55,000-capacity Sports Hub when it opens later this year.

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