UFC to use S'pore as MMA hub

SINGAPORE - Singapore will not just be a one-off money spinner for the world's most popular mixed martial arts (MMA) series.

Ahead of its first show in the Republic early next year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will set up an office here next month to serve as a base for its expansion across Asia.

"Singapore is a great hub for business, logistics and, in particular, MMA, plus the government has a strong vision for developing sports," said UFC Asia managing director Mark Fischer, who himself is relocating from its China branch in Beijing to Singapore.

As more MMA gyms and followers sprout up around the island, the American-based company plans to fly in its top fighters such as Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre regularly for coaching clinics and visits to schools and charity organisations.

UFC-branded gyms and shops are also in the pipeline - all to show that it has long-term aspirations beyond its full-fledged fight cards, which will be staged annually at Marina Bay Sands from 2014.

According to Fischer, the company's approach will differ from Singapore-based promotional outfit One Fighting Championship (One FC), which has staged several events at the Indoor Stadium, attracting crowds close to 10,000.

He said: "We are the global MMA leader and the best of the best at what we do - outside the ring, we have a great track record in community outreach efforts such as helping obese kids or at-risk youth.

"We put an enormous investment into every show and country we go to. Singapore will be no different."

In 2005, there was just one gym offering MMA classes in Singapore. Now, there are an estimated 12, five of which opened in the last year.

The membership numbers range from 200 in a newer outfit like Top Gym, to the thousands in Evolve.

For those who are unfamiliar with the sport, MMA brings together martial arts exponents with backgrounds such as karate, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling in unarmed combat.

UFC plans to hold six to seven events in Asia next year, compared to One FC's 24.

Asian fighters will form the majority of these UFC cards, which will be headlined by championship bouts and be screened in over 130 countries.

While the shows used to be available only on pay-per-view TV, it has made its way into mainstream television after inking a US$100 million (S$128 million)-a-year deal with American TV network Fox in 2011.

To reach its eventual goal of staging monthly fights across the continent, UFC wants to train more fighters to follow in the footsteps of Chan Sung Jung - nicknamed the Korean Zombie - who has a shot at the featherweight title next week.

One such initiative is the Ultimate Fighter TV series, which held tryouts at MBSon Thursday.

Some 18 fighters, including a handful of Singaporeans, went through interviews and physical tests for a part on the reality show, which awards a six-figure UFC contract to the winner. The programme will be filmed in Shenyang, China later this year.

Fischer said: "As we build up our base of fighters, it is just a matter of time before the UFC has a champion from South-east Asia.

"The key is to develop now for the future, which is what we will be doing in Singapore."


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