MMA set for boost in Asia

Together, One Fighting Championship and the Evolve mixed martial arts (MMA) gym have already invested more than $40 million promoting the sport in Singapore.

And they intend to invest even more, according to Evolve founder Chatri Sityodtong, who was speaking at the opening of the brand's third gym at Orchard Central.

The Thai businessman said: "Between Evolve and One FC, we have invested north of $40m into the Singapore economy to grow the sport of MMA, to make Singapore the headquarters for all martial arts in Asia.

"Between Victor (Cui, One FC CEO and founder) and I, we intend to invest another $50m to $100m to grow the sport across Asia."

The self-made entrepreneur, known for his bold proclamations, went as far as to predict that MMA will become the No. 1 sport in Asia within a decade.

Sityodtong said: "We predict that MMA will become a mainstream sport in three to five years and surpass cricket and football as the No. 1 sport in Asia in 10 years."

His optimism is based on the growth of One FC in this part of the world. One FC is the main MMA promotion in Asia and has grown from one event in 2011. Next year, there will be 24 events and will also see One FC's first foray into China, with 10 events.

The sport, which started off as an underground movement about 15 years ago, with no proper training, equipment, rules or safety procedures, has been transformed, according to One FC vice-president and MMA legend, American Rich Franklin.

The former high school teacher said: "It has gone from a sport that was banned in 48 of 50 states (in America) to one that is widely accepted, in a country where martial arts is not deeply rooted culturally, except perhaps wrestling and boxing.

"The launching pad in Asia is different from that in the United States 10 years ago; we are talking about a region with thousands of years of tradition in various martial arts."

"I am not sure I can quite put the trajectory and the potential of MMA in Asia, but you will see something in the next five years that will blow your mind."

After opening his third gym on the sixth floor of Orchard Central, Sityodtong plans to open two more in Singapore and more across Asia.

He said: "I plan to open 100 Evolve academies at a minimum across Asia. We are in the process of opening one overseas and two in Singapore.

"Wherever One FC is going, you can bet Evolve will be there soon."

Beyond just business, Sityodtong's company is actively giving back to society by providing free classes for social organisations such as the Singapore Children's Society and Boys' Town.

And Evolve is expanding its partnership with Sport Singapore to allow athletes to train at their facilities.

Announced a year ago, the partnership allows national athletes to glean knowledge from Evolve fighters' training methodologies, nutritional regimens and mental strength programmes, among others.

That scheme is now extended to lower-level athletes.

This article was first published on Nov 28, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.