One FC fires its first shot in Dubai

Sports fans in the United Arab Emirates' most populous city seem to be in agreement that there has not been this much buzz for an event since Manchester United arrived for a mid-season training camp in February.

The focus of all the attention this time is One Fighting Championship's (One FC) debut in the Middle East - part of the Singapore-based mixed martial arts promotion's bid to expand outside South-east Asia.

Tonight's "Reign of Champions" card features three title bouts, including former Olympic wrestler Ben Askren's shot at the organisation's welterweight (77kg) crown.

One FC's charismatic owner Victor Cui said: "Go big or go home - but we don't want to go home, we want to show we mean business in the Middle East and are here to stay.

"That's why we put together the best card in the company's three-year history."

A sell-out crowd of 6,000, including Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona, is expected at the Dubai World Trade Centre for the nine-fight show.

One FC's stable of experienced fighters and rising Asian talent have been on a publicity blitz, dominating sports headlines across local media.

This is the first major MMA event in the UAE since the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship - regarded as the sport's premier promotion - held a show in Abu Dhabi in April after a four-year hiatus.

"We see a lot of fights on TV but were wondering when top MMA fighters would come here - finally, they are here," said businessman Hamdan Al Kathiri, 38, who bought a ringside ticket for AED2,000 (S$680).

The co-main event sees Japanese heavy hitter Nobutatsu Suzuki defend his welterweight belt against enigmatic American Askren, who impressed in his One FC debut at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in April.

After choking out Bakhtiyar Abbasov in the first round, the Wisconsin native immediately called out part-time lawyer Suzuki, who has lost just once in 14 matches, with eight wins via knockout.

"Some people say Suzuki can knock me out but let's face it, he's no match for my wrestling skills," said Askren, a two-time NCAA wrestling champion who competed at the 2008 Olympics.

Top billing goes to the promotion's diamond, Shinya Aoki, who is looking to make the first defence of his lightweight title against Iran's Kamal Shalorus, a fellow submission specialist.

Aoki, recognised as one of the best grapplers to come out of Japan, feels in tip-top shape after a 10-week training camp with Evolve Gym in Singapore, which is owned by Chatri Sityodtong.

Said the 31-year-old, who holds a black belt in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu: "It's going to be a historic night.

"My job is to make sure I will be remembered for winning, by whatever means necessary."

This article was first published on Aug 29, 2014.
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