Earlier this month, a prismatic shower of confetti rained on rising star and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Angela Lee, as she stood triumphantly in the middle of the packed Singapore Indoor Stadium, arms heavy with the ONE Championship title belt that she had just won after grinding a decision win over Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi.
Right at that moment, MMA had well and truly arrived in Asia and Singapore. We speak to two heavyweights in the scene – Victor Cui, co-founder of ONE Championship, and Arvind Lalwani, the man behind the upcoming Singapore Fighting Championships 3, about the rise of MMA in Singapore.
Victor, you made a bold statement to me, that MMA will become the number one sport in Asia.
Victor: Well there are three reasons. First, it’s culturally relevant. Everyone here is never more than one degree of separation from someone who does martial arts. Do you know anyone who drives in Formula One? Or who plays golf? No. But every country in Asia has a form of martial art. It’s embedded in our DNA.
Second, it transcends the language barrier. You can watch MMA with the volume muted and you know what’s going on. You get that a fight is going to happen.
Lastly, we are desperate for Asian global heroes. We don’t have a lot of Asian heroes right now in the English football premier league or the NBA. When we do get one like Jeremy Lin, then you get Linsanity! The whole country gravitates around him even though he doesn’t speak a lick of Mandarin. ONE is building Asian heroes, leaders in their communities, people who inspire us to be the best in whatever we want to be.
Arvind: ONE Championship has done a good job in promoting the sport over the years and they have definitely made MMA more popular in this region. I have been in the industry since I was 16 and have seen it transitioned quite a fair bit.
Now people have a better understanding of the combat. Before it was known as a bloodsport whereas now, it is also an entertainment sport. All thanks to media and people’s keen interest to expose themselves to the art.
What do you think is lacking in Singapore’s fight scene?
Arvind: Lack of fight promotions and the lack of support & training local talents in Singapore. How are our fighters going to get better without any place to fight? This why I fully support Singapore Fighting Championship (SFC) and ONE Championship. We need to make more of these types of platforms available.
What’s next for ONE Championship?
Victor: We’re on track for a billion dollar valuation and we’re looking at an IPO, probably in the next three years. We’re the first sport in Asia that Facebook is sponsoring and we have deals with Panasonic, Casio, Under Armour and a lot more. We’re the only sport in Singapore to be supported by the government alongside Formula One.
Arvind, we’re close to the third edition of SFC. Tell me what the audience can expect.
Arvind: A great night of fights showcasing the best fighters from Singapore and across the region. We have amateur MMA, PRO MMA, PRO Boxing and K1 Kickboxing fights, with three title belts on the line. It’s a stacked card with 14 fights. We will have good food and drinks available too. Tell me what else are you going to do on a Friday night?
Buy tickets for Singapore Fighting Championship 3 (10 June) here.