MMA eyes 2017 SEA Games
ONE Championship's Cui wants to bring MMA to the National Stadium to rival the scale of Formula 1
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
World Champ Aoki wary of opponent Ando
He is the defending ONE Championship lightweight world champion, famed for his submissions and on a seven-win streak, with his last loss coming three years ago.
But Japan's Shinya Aoki has plenty of respect for his countryman Koji Ando, who will challenge him for his title at the ONE: Warrior's Quest event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium tonight.
After all, Ando is on a five-bout winning streak, the last win over Aoki's Evolve Fight Team stablemate Zorobabel Moreira in the Battle of Lions event here last November.
Aoki said: "I have a lot of respect for Ando and I know he's a black belt in judo and is good on his feet as well.
"I have definitely spoken to Zoro about Ando, and I'm sure my coaches and I have a good game plan come fight night," added the 1.80m-tall fighter, who took the title from South Korean Kotetsu Boku in the Kings & Champions event here in 2013.
Known as Tobikan Judan in the ring, Aoki has been training four hours daily, six days a week, for the past few months at Evolve. Evolve boasts of world champions such as Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichok, who will be up against Philippines' Roy Doliguez in the inaugural strawweight world championship bout.
Aoki said: "I don't just focus on a specific training regimen; the beauty about martial arts is that there is always something new to learn and improve.
"I have been sharpening my striking skills and working on improving my ground game. I'm looking forward to facing Koji and I'm sure we'll both be wary of each other."
Born in Shizuoka, Japan, Aoki picked up judo in high school and then went to Waseda University, where he started training in Brazilian jiujitsu, sambo (a Russian martial art), and mixed martial arts (MMA) under MMA legend Yuki Nakai.
After graduation, he joined the police force to make a living, as it "was hard to make a living as a fighter in Japan".
But his passion for MMA convinced him to quit the Force after two months to train as a full-time mixed martial artist.
He gained notoriety while competing in Japan, due to his preference for rainbow-coloured spandex tights during fights.
He explained: "That's the trend there and I like bright colours. Even the shoes I wore to the sponsorship event with 2XU and Mah Motors recently were brightly coloured."
Asked if the rainbow-coloured tights will make an appearance tonight, he said coyly: "That's a surprise. I guess you'll have to watch me on fight night to find out."
- LIM SAY HENG
The beauty about martial arts is that there is always something new to learn and improve.
— World champion Shinya Aoki (above)
What: ONE: Warrior's Quest
Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium
Ali Yaakub v Yang Jian Bing
- Strawweight (Women):
Angela Lee (Sin) v Aya Saber
Benedict Ang (Sin) v Waqar Umar,
Amir Khan (Sin) v Shannon Wiratchai
Stephen Langdown (Sin) v A La Teng Hei Li
Eddie Ng v Ariel Sexton
Rob Lista v Timofey Nastyukhin
Lowen Tynanes v Kuat Khamitov
Ev Ting v Marat Gafurov
- Strawweight World Championship:
Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke v Roy Doliguez
- Lightweight World Championship:
Shinya Aoki v Koji Ando