One FC aiming for the big time
Live television broadcasts, a mixture of championship contenders and local heroes, and working with corporate sponsors as partners, not financiers.
That is the winning formula for the One Fighting Championship (One FC), which will host their Battle of Lions event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium this evening.
The event caters to almost 11,000 fans this year, up by almost 1,000 in capacity from last year, and was close to selling out when The New Paper spoke to its founder and chief executive officer Victor Cui yesterday.
He said: "This show is broadcast to one billion viewers, and there is a different kind of energy, from the fighters to the officials to the fans, when they know it's broadcast to the world.
"And yes, you see the best in the world, but we are also developing and showcasing local heroes such as Kirstie (Gannaway) and Amir Khan, and these are athletes people can connect with emotionally, and relate to."
The growth of the sport and the Singapore-based brand has grown exponentially since its inception in 2011: from one event in 2011, they are hosting 11 this year and bumping the number up to 24 next year, including 10 in China.
In contrast, recent media reports pointed out that the United States-based Ultimate Fighting Championship is not faring that well, with resignations of key personnel in its office here, while its debut in Singapore in January this year was reportedly not profitable.
There is no such worry for One FC, with new partners - as Cui terms his corporate sponsors - coming on board at an "exponential" rate in recent times.
"To have a successful relationship with a blue-chip company, you have to be their partner, you have to help grow their brand and reach their clientele," he said, adding that social media giant Facebook is the latest corporation to work with One FC.
While there has been a steady growth of sport here in the past four years, Cui reckons that mixed martial arts (MMA) is still at the "very, very very early stages of growth".
And while fans are getting increasingly educated on the sport, Cui and his team are still working tirelessly to combat the lingering perception that MMA is a violent sport.
He said: "Every sport battles its perceptions and stereotypes, it's very normal for people who haven't been exposed to the sport to automatically think that (it's violent).
"But every sport has its inherent danger, that's why there's a difference between the professionals and amateurs, like you and I.
"Sure, we know how to drive, but put us in a Formula 1 car and we'd crash after 10 seconds."
While his eventual aim is to have One FC event every Friday for the entire year, he is also aiming to go big next year in Singapore - to sell out one of his events here at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium.
While Cui and his team are still working out the dates, he said: "The jump from 11,000 spectators to 55,000 excites me...
"I am very confident, you're talking about the kind of event that Singapore has never hosted before.
"I definitely see it as a multi-day event that includes a concert and amateur competitions, and involves the entire martial arts community.
"You have to broaden it to a mega event about martial arts and entertainment, the peak of which will be the One FC fight night."
Jovial ataides turns serious at weigh-in
“I’ve been waiting so long and training so hard for this fight and now it’s less than 24 hours away. I can’t wait.” - Singapore’s Kirstie Gannaway (above), who will take on Malaysian Adek Omar in the atomweight bout. Singapore’s other representative Amir Khan (top) will face Waqar Umar of Pakistan in the featherweight category
He was jovial and joked about being able to eat whatever he wanted after the weigh-in last night.
But, when Leandro Ataides took the stage at Bugis Junction for the One Fighting Championship Battle of Lions weigh-in, the Brazilian was all business.
The jujitsu black-belt holder will feature in tonight's main event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, a middleweight world championship bout against Kazakhstan's Igor Svirid.
While the fighters for the other nine bouts were jovial and even exchanged handshakes and hugs after their weigh-ins, there was none of those pleasantries between Ataides and Svirid.
They went nose to nose with each other for the photographers, with Svirid being pulled back after the photo call.
Said Ataides, who trains at the Evolve MMA Gym: "This is the greatest fight of my life. I usually train five hours but, for this fight, I trained up to seven hours and trained an extra day a week."
He was clearly the favourite, attracting wolf whistles and cat calls from the crowd of 200.
Ataides said: "I have a lot of Brazilian friends here, but I live in Singapore now and the support here is good.
"Now I just want to do my best and get the belt."
The event will kick off with the atomweight bout between Singapore's Kirstie Gannaway and Malaysia's Adek Omar.
After her weigh-in, Gannaway said: "I've been waiting so long and training so hard for this fight and now it's less than 24 hours away. I can't wait."
Her compatriot Amir Khan will take on Pakistan's Waqar Umar in the featherweight category.
Amir, wearing a cowboy hat, said: "I don't feel any added pressure fighting in Singapore.
"In fact, it's better to fight in front of my own friends and family. It will motivate me to win for Singapore."
- Middleweight world championship: Igor Svirid (Kazakhstan) v Leandro Ataides (Brazil)
- Lightweight: Koji Ando (Japan) v Zorobabel Moreira (Brazil)
- Welterweight: Bakhtiyar Abbasov (Azerbaijan) v Luis Santos (Brazil); Dwayne Hinds (T&T) v Christophe Vandijck (Belgium); Zuli Silawanto (Indonesia) v Jeff Huang (Taiwan)
- Middleweight: Tatsuya Mizuno (Japan) v Brayan Rafiq (France)
- Featherweight: Cary Bullos (Philippines) v Major Overall (United States); Rocky Batolbatol (Philippines) v Martin Nguyen (Australia); Waqar Umar (Pakistan) v Amir Khan (Singapore)
- Atomweight: Adek Omar (Malaysia) v Kirstie Gannaway (Singapore)