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Young and ready

Our columnist tells Ali Kasim the rising 
stars can throw up some surprises at 
Roland Garros

RISING STARS: Watch out for Karolina Pliskova (above), Elina Svitolina and Madison Keys at the French Open. 

RISING STARS: Watch out for Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina (above) and Madison Keys at the French Open. 

RISING STARS: Watch out for Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Madison Keys (above) at the French Open. 

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MMA eyes 2017 SEA Games

ONE Championship's Cui wants to bring MMA to 
the National Stadium to 
rival the scale of Formula 1

COOL IT: ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui (centre) separating Singapore's Benedict Ang (left) from Waqar Umar during the weigh-in.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has been growing exponentially in Singapore and around the region.

But fans could be in for something even bigger late next year.

In an earlier report by The New Paper, Victor Cui, CEO of ONE Championship, Asia's largest mixed martial arts organisation, said he had his sights set on bringing MMA to the 55,000-seater National Stadium.

During the ONE: Warrior's Quest public weigh-in last night at The Cathay, he elaborated on his hopes.

"I'm talking about a mega event that would make F1 look small. That's what I would dream of if we go to the National Stadium," he said.

"There will be concerts, entertainment, martial art demonstrations... an entire festival surrounding celebration for martial arts in Asia.

"We're working on it but, when you want to work on something that big, it takes time."

Cui believes that the sport's growth can be attributed to its intrinsic link with Asian culture.

He said: "Of all the sports in the world, the only true sport that is truly Asian, is martial arts.

"Everybody gets it, there's nothing you need to explain to someone who lives in Asia about martial arts.

"The foundation and the knowledge base of the sport in Asia are there, in our Asian DNA, unlike any other sport."

For this reason, Cui hopes to see MMA included at the next South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Malaysia in 2017.

"The Malaysians, who are huge supporters of MMA, are trying to push it (MMA in the next SEA Games), and we've helped to build the grassroots there on a very big level," he said.


Should MMA make a breakthrough and become a medal event at the next SEA Games, Singapore would appear to be big beneficiaries.

Four of the 20 fighters squaring off in the ONE: Warrior's Quest Fight Night this evening at the Indoor Stadium are representing Singapore.

Two of them, Benedict Ang, 19, and Angela Lee, 18, are making their professional debuts.

Said Cui of the growth of the sport in Singapore: "The progress of MMA in Singapore is going phenomenally well.

"When you deliver a product that everybody knows, understands and appreciates, things change and people become interested."

Not too long ago, debutant Benedict was one of these fans whose interest was piqued from watching MMA videos online with no intention of fighting.

He told TNP of his journey to professional MMA: "I got curious watching videos of One Championship, but the decision to join and do MMA came after I saw my teammate, Eddie (Ng) fight.

"To be on the same card as him and fighting is a dream come true.

"MMA in Singapore is growing very fast, we're getting more and more fighters.

"It'll be a huge sport in not just Singapore, but also in the world one day."

The foundation and the knowledge base of the sport in Asia are there, in our Asian DNA, unlike any other sport.

— ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui


The match-ups

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M'sian athletes warned: SEA Games not a holiday trip

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Volleyball coach Narita believes in tough training

Volleyball coach Narita pushes his trainees hard in pursuit of excellence

He has the air of a genial grandfather, always wearing a broad smile as he talks about his favourite beef noodles and the best Japanese restaurants in Singapore.

But, on court, there is nary a smile on national volleyball coach Akihiko Narita, as the 70-year-old keeps a strict eye on Singapore's volleyball players, shouting instructions and gesticulating wildly to his charges as they train for the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games here from June 5 to 16.

By his own admission, Narita (above, in black) is a demanding coach as he relentlessly pushes his team to excellence, sometimes leading to the female players shedding tears of frustration.

National women's captain Quek Soo Teng, who has been under Narita's tutelage since he reprised his role as national coach in 2012, admitted that the team had been "very affected" at the beginning.

"We were scared of making mistakes and played with fear instead of enjoyment, which defeated the purpose," said Quek.

"But we soon realised that it was coach Narita's way of helping us improve our focus and mental toughness.

"If we do a simple action wrongly, he will make us do it the right way - not once, but over and over again, so that we will remember the movement."

The 28-year-old recalled an instance when Narita had told his assistant coaches: "If they cannot take me shouting, how will they handle it if people are jeering at them during a competition?"

"He pushes us very hard, but he has his reasons to be harsh during training."

Indeed, for Narita, who was also here on contract from 1982 to 1985 as national coach, his fierce style is meant to help the men's and women's teams grow in confidence and not succumb to pressure.

Said Narita: "Pressure during training is good. But pressure during competition is not good.

"Now they don't have confidence, that's why they feel stressed.

"With more training, they will be more confident and less stressed."

Apart from guiding his players to achieving a top-four target at the upcoming Games, Narita is also looking to emulate Japan by grooming a team of local junior players.

Formerly assistant coach of Japan's junior team, Narita has been attending the National Schools A and B Division volleyball matches to scout for young players to form a national youth squad.


Emphasising the importance of an efficient youth bridging programme as Singapore's ticket to reaching greater volleyball heights, he said: "In Japan, the system provides for better progression from primary to secondary school level, and from secondary school competitions to club competitions and so on.

"Here, the move for young players from primary school to secondary school level is not as smooth, and some of the basics could be missed along the way."

Narita also pointed out that Japanese players were exposed to the sport at a much younger age due to Mama-san Volleyball, or middle-aged women's volleyball.

"The women who play Mama-san volleyball often take their children along to games with them," said Narita, who had been head coach of Japan's women's silver medal-winning team at the 1995 Summer Universiade.

"So these kids get more exposure to volleyball and are very eager to join their schools' teams."

Star Vanderput out but Grewal brothers in hockey squad

Grewal brothers finally get to play together

SELECTION: Ishwarpal Singh Grewal (left) and his younger brother Jaspal are named in the 18-man squad, while Ian Vanderput misses out, although regulations allow for changes to be made up to June 5.
SELECTION: Ishwarpal Singh Grewal and his younger brother Jaspal are named in the 18-man squad, while Ian Vanderput (above) misses out, although regulations allow for changes to be made up to June 5.

He was responsible for four of Singapore's seven goals at January's World League Round 2 (WLR2) tournament, including a belter that was the solitary bright spark in the hockey men's 16-1 loss to Malaysia.

But effervescent forward Ian Vanderput has been left out of the South-east Asia (SEA) Games squad.

Ishwarpal Singh Grewal and his younger brother Jaspal, both defenders, were included in the 18-man squad named by the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) yesterday as the men go into the final phase of preparation for the four-team hockey tournament that kicks off on June 6. 

The tournament features firm favourites Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar, along with a Singapore side who finished seventh in the eight-team WLR2.

"Ian was very effective for us during the (WLR2), but he's struggling with a hamstring injury and we're not sure if he's going to recover in time for the Games," said SHF president Mathavan Devadas.

Devadas also co-chairs the federation's selection committee - along with Ramesh Appoo - that made the final decision on team selection.  

"The coaching team and the committee made the decision to have players who are fit and ready for competition, and based on the number of strikers we have.

"We wanted to name the squad so we can start focusing and planning, but regulations allow us to make changes up to June 5."

Work commitments have seen the 27-year-old army officer struggle to commit to the team, but Vanderput took a mature approach to the situation. 

"Obviously I'd like to be playing at the SEA Games and I'm disappointed, but I understand the decision, I get it," he told The New Paper.  

"I've not been able to train with the team very much. I'm a bit out of touch with the tactics and that might actually harm the team, and that's the last thing we want," said Vanderput, who will continue to train with the team should his schedule permit it. 

Even without their star man, Jaspal insists that team spirit remains high, as they go into the final phase of preparations. 

"We're all willing to fight for each other and that's one of the best things about us - positive team spirit," said the 21-year-old, who will read accountancy at the Singapore Management University later this year. 

"The toughest part of preparations was when we couldn't have the whole team training together.

"Things could've been better, but we take it as a challenge," said Jaspal, who is delighted to be able to join his brother - for the first time - in the national team. 

They both have played for the national team, but due to various commitments, never at the same time.

Brotherly love could come in handy for first-year medical student Ishwarpal, 22, who has had to juggle sports and academics. 

"Honestly, some of my performances have taken a hit as I prepare for my exams that start six days after the SEA Games," he said. 

"School has definitely been tough and, personally, the biggest challenge for me has been speed.

"I've never been a fast player and have had to use brains to make up for it, but that has been tough too.


"But I want to show that as a team we can do this and I also want to prove my critics wrong," said Ishwarpal, who sees the positives in having someone to talk to about the team and the game, at home. 

Admitting to playfully teasing each other about on-field mistakes when at home, Jaspal revealed that the family is proud to have two representatives at the Games. 

"My dad always wanted one of us to make the national team and now to have both of us in, is quite special. He's very proud.

"This is my first major Games for the national team and to play in front of a home crowd will be great," said Jaspal, who remains upbeat despite the team losing to biggest rivals Malaysia in a five-game friendly series earlier this month. 

Singapore lost 2-1, 7-0, 5-0, 4-2 and 6-1, in games played at the Sengkang Stadium. 

"It's given us confidence even though the results weren't exactly encouraging. We're not approaching the Games with a defeatist mentality, no," said Jaspal. 

"I believe it'll all come down to the day itself - we will stand a chance against Malaysia if we bring our 'A' game."