In recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence in the popularity of combat sports, thanks to the global phenomenon that is UFC. Hate it or love it, the organisation has brought MMA into the limelight and it seems it’s here to stay. It’s also paved the way for cross-discipline “superfights”, as we recently saw with the Mayweather-McGregor boxing bout. Purist boxing fans sneered at the thought of “sacrilegious” event, but it gained massive profits through PPV and it gave boxing more coverage, especially in Singapore, where the sport has flown under the radar for a long time. This is something CEO of Ringstar, Scott Farrell is all too familiar with. Ahead of Roar of Singapore III, we speak to Farrell about the future of boxing in Singapore, and what it’ll take to get more supporters behind their local fighters.
How’d you get into boxing?
When I was young, a friend of mine used to own a gym not far from where I lived, so I spent a lot of time in there. That’s where I fell in love with the sport. I didn’t just fall in love with boxing. It was combat sports in general, whether it be karate or judo. As I grew older, aside from football, boxing remained the one sport that I kept going back to. Even if I didn’t do it for a month or so, and I ended feeling like I wanted to get fit again, or get into competition, or even just hit something, it’d always be there for me (laughs).
I also liked the whole “boys to men” aspect of it all. It kind of took me from that transition period, where I could have done things wrong. And I have done things wrong, if you were asking mum and dad at the time (laughs). But boxing keeps you grounded, it brings you back. It teaches you respect. The guys you dealt with were always harder, bigger, stronger, and there was a code that you lived by. I wanted to be the greatest athlete ever, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the skills to get that far. I definitely had the drive, definitely had the passion, definitely had the fitness, but I didn’t have the skills to get me to the next level so it wasn’t meant to be. It didn’t stop me from loving the sport though. I continued in a different way. I’ve turned to becoming a promoter, and I seem to be very good at that. I understand, in a certain way, why the fighters want me and it’s that everyone sees the financial side of boxing, but I understand the pain and fatigue these guys go through on a daily basis. The constant pain and suffering even before they step into the ring. The reason I know that? I’ve done it. That puts a little more integrity into what I’m doing.
Boxing has been overlooked for a long time in Singapore. Interest only piqued here in the lead up to Mayweather vs McGregor. Do you think the sport has a future here?
Absolutely, I do. Boxing is the best paid sport in the world, without a shadow of a doubt. It can bring in the most PPVs, and it just proved that again. And with the Mayweather-McGregor fight, it showed that boxing is an exceptional art. McGregor is a combatant that is at the top of his game, and he went up against a retired boxer, and to be honest, Mayweather carried him for at least five rounds. Mayweather even walked forward, and he never does that. He didn’t do that against Pacquaio, and he definitely didn’t do that against “Sugar” Shane Mosley. So I think the fight has worked as a catalyst to bring attention and respect to boxing. With regards to Singapore, we’ve got the capture the imagination of people watching the sport for the first time, and the reason I’m doing Ringstar, is to give them that platform.
What needs to be done to draw audiences to these fights?
Let’s take boxing out of the equation for a second. Let’s look at Ringstar as a brand. People need to feel it, touch it, know that it’s real. They need to know that it’s not a fly-by-night thing. They don’t want to invest in something that could just disappear from right under them. That’s what’s different in the Asian markets, especially in Singapore: people need more time. If I were doing a fight in the UK or Las Vegas, I can do the promotion 3 weeks out and fill a venue. Here, I need to start months in advance. People need to keep seeing things about the fight before they even start considering to buy a ticket. Other things that will help include TV ads, and Singaporean businesses getting onboard. In Singapore it’s not enough to sell a boxing event, you need to have a plan. My plan is to educate people about the brand.
It’s a well known fact that boxing audiences want to watch undefeated fighters. So much so, that coaches, trainers, and promoters set up the fighters with subpar opponents to keep their record clean. What do you think about that?
I think it’s stupid, it shouldn’t be done, and it’s rubbish. What these people do, is they set these fighters up with opponents they know they can beat so they can build up their record to something like 20-0, and start looking for that money fight. Now, that “money fight” at 20-0 is not going to be for millions of dollars. It’s going to be more like USD$25,000, and if he’s fighting a half decent guy, chances are, it’s not going to pay off. I don’t want to do that. I want to pit equally matched boxers against each other, as much as possible. As a promoter, obviously I don’t want certain guys on the losing side of things, but why should I cheat the fans? If it’s going to be great for boxing but bad for me, then I’d rather go with “bad for me”.
What did you see in Ridhwan when you first saw him?
I thought he was about fifteen years old, and I wondered to myself “Why is this guy even fighting?” (laughs) He doesn’t look like a boxer. I knew his record, and I’d seen him fight a couple of times when he was an amateur. When he turned pro, I watched a few videos of him and thought he had something in him. You could see he was schooled. He had desire, and he had power for a little guy, so I brought him on for Roar 1 – and he got knocked down. Jason Butar Butar didn’t have the best record but he was tough as a bulldog, and managed to knock him down. Ridhwan however, got up, shook it off, and went on to knock Butar Butar out. It was great. He’s skillful and he’s as humble as the day is long. Sometimes a little too humble, in my opinion. He will be one of the world’s top 4 sanctioning bodies’ champion very very soon, so Singaporeans need to start getting behind him now.
Get your tickets to catch Ridhwan “The Chosen Wan” in action at the Roar of Singapore III here. Happens 20 October, at Suntec Singapore Convention Centre.