Belgian treat for MMA fans

A rising grappler, touted as a future Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) star, will headline the outfit's first show in Singapore.

Belgian Tarec Saffiedine will make his Octagon debut against hard-hitting fan favourite Jake Ellenberger at Marina Bay Sands on Jan 4.

This is among 10 bouts - mainly featuring promising Asian fighters - lined up for the United States-based company's inaugural live event in South-east Asia.

The eyes of the mixed martial arts world will be on 27-year-old Saffiedine, fresh from a four-fight win streak that earned him the Strikeforce welterweight title before that outfit closed.

"I'm super-excited about my UFC debut and can't wait to show the fans what I am capable of," said the Brussels native who was born to a Lebanese father and Belgian mother.

Saffiedine, a Brazilian jiujitsu purple-belt holder who boasts a 14-3 win-loss record, is seen as a potential challenger to UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who has not lost in six years.

But he will have to first get past Ellenberger (29-7 record), who is nicknamed The Juggernaut for his deadly right hook.

The 28-year-old American, who was with Saffiedine at a press conference at MBS yesterday, said: "It's an honour to be part of UFC's first Singapore event - it's up to me to prove what you guys have been missing so far."

That, however, will come at a price.

Seats for UFC Fight Night Singapore are priced from $88, more than double that of locally-based One Fighting Championship, whose tickets for several sell-out shows at the Singapore Indoor Stadium started from $38.

Ringside seats cost $688 but the organisers are confident of selling out all 5,500 tickets.

UFC Asia president Mark Fischer said: "We have demand at those price points because, for some people, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"There's been a big buzz among locals about the UFC but we also expect to draw visitors who are in town for the new year." Like many MMA fans here, Eric Chew cannot wait to see the all-out battles in the UFC's trademark Octagon.

The systems engineer, 34, said: "Having had to watch the fights for years online or on TV, it's a blessing that they're finally going to showcase their talents to us up- close."

After a decade-long hiatus, UFC returned to Asia last year, drawing 15,000-strong crowds at sold-out shows in Macau and Saitama in Japan.

The average ticket price of a full-fledged UFC event is US$250 (S$320), the second-highest among all professional sports in the US.

In the days leading up to the showpiece, open workouts and weigh-ins will be held at iconic areas around Singapore. These are free for fans to attend.

The company will also fly in its top fighters to promote the event.

Swede Alexander Gustafsson, who lost narrowly to UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones recently, will be here next week to celebrate the firm's 20th anniversary.

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