Even as more experienced fight promoters in Singapore questioned the manner in which the Asia Fighting Championship (AFC) took place, the man behind the new muay thai event has maintained that it was run according to proper guidelines.
AFC founder and chief executive officer Sasidharan Unnithan said the event, where tragedy struck when bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian died after his bout on Saturday night, followed standards and safety protocols set by sanctioning body World Muaythai Council (WMC).
Sasidharan, a long-time friend of Pradip, his former colleague at gym chain California Fitness, told The Straits Times yesterday at the wake that a medical team certified the fighters fit, according to guidelines laid out by the WMC.
"All the referees are WMC-certified... we had a ringside doctor with a full medical team on standby," the 38-year-old former gym general manager said.
He said that Pradip, 32, did a health check before the fight, and that a medical team and an ambulance were also on standby during the fight at Marina Bay Sands.
When questioned how much training was provided, given that Pradip was brought in as a replacement a day before the event, Sasidharan said they had both taught kickboxing classes while working together at California Fitness.
They wanted entertainment at the expense of a human life. It's ludicrous... It's just so tragic and easily could've been avoided. Untrained civilians don't know how to protect themselves - which is the first rule of martial arts. This is unfortunately a black eye not just for martial arts, but for all sports.
CHATRI SITYODTONG, One Championship chairman and chief executive, believes the death of Pradip Subramanian was entirely preventable had precautions been taken.
Pradip, who was also president of World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation (WBPF), had replaced former Singapore Idol runner-up Sylvester Sim. The latter was originally slated to face YouTube personality Steven Lim for the event's "celebrity fight", but withdrew citing insurance problems.
Sasidharan declined to comment on whether scaling the fight down to two rounds of two minutes each, from the WMC standard of five rounds of three minutes each, was done to help the inexperienced fighters cope. He also declined to comment on whether Pradip was ready to take on Lim, given that he replaced Sim just a day before the AFC event was slated to take place.
More seasoned fight promoters, however, have expressed reservations about how the AFC was run. Some have even lambasted it for running a "highly irresponsible and reckless" event.
One Championship chairman and chief executive Chatri Sityodtong told ST: "In my opinion, there was a serious breach (of safety protocols). How could you put two untrained civilians with no background in martial arts and have them compete in a professional bout with no protective gear?
MUAY THAI IS NOT A GLADIATOR SPORT
This fight happened because the organisation knows nothing about organising fights. It's all pure entertainment for them... This takes our sport back two notches.
ARVIND LALWANI, Singapore Fighting Championships boss, feels the AFC organiser pandered to the crowd without taking into account potential liabilities.
"They wanted entertainment at the expense of a human life. It's ludicrous, if you compare it to the standards and best practices of global sports properties. It's just so tragic and easily could've been avoided."
Chatri also questioned if adequate medical screening - including CAT scans and hydration tests - and preparation had been conducted before both fighters were cleared to enter the ring.
"Just because you're a bodybuilder and you have big muscles doesn't mean you can fight," he added. "It takes years of training to hone your technique. Untrained civilians don't know how to protect themselves - which is the first rule of martial arts."
SAFETY MUST COME FIRST
It's not advisable for a novice to sign up for a fight the day prior to the event. This is based on the risks involved in the sport and the preparation required to minimise the associated risks. Both the individual and the organisation have responsibilities in this regard.
DR CORMAC O'MUIRCHEARTAIGH, sports medicine physician and medical consultant for UFC (Asia), advises anyone thinking of fighting in the ring to err on the side of caution - not in specific reference to Pradip's case, but with regard to combat sports in general.
Arvind Lalwani, who heads the Singapore Fighting Championships (SFC) said he would have cancelled the fight in the event of a last-minute withdrawal. In fact, one of the fights at the sixth instalment of SFC, also held on Saturday night, was called off after one fighter did not turn up for the weigh-in.
All SFC fighters also have to go through a medical screening a month before the fight, on top of checks by a medical doctor a day before and on the day itself.
Said Arvind, a former national amateur boxer with more than two decades of boxing and martial arts experience: "This fight happened because the organisation knows nothing about organising fights. It's all pure entertainment for them.
"We know the liabilities involved in fighting and we keep to a high safety standard. This takes our sport back two notches."
Ringstar Management owner Scott O'Farrell declined to comment on the incident, but gave assurance that Ringstar's events - such as the upcoming Roar of Singapore III next month - engage a fully-trained medical team and all its fights are sanctioned by the International Boxing Organisation.
Its fighters are also required to submit a full up-to-date serology report, on top of a medical report from the preceding six months. They also need to be cleared by doctors a few times before their fights take place.
According to Dr Cormac O'Muircheartaigh, a sports medicine physician and director of Sports Medicine Lab, and who is also the medical consultant for Ultimate Fighting Championship (Asia), completing all the necessary medical checks within 24 hours is unlikely - but not impossible.
But even after completing a screening process - which could include a cardiac echocardiogram, a chest X-ray, a treadmill exercise test and even an MRI of the brain - a person who is fighting fit is still not necessarily equipped to enter the ring.
It is understood that Pradip did not go through any MRI tests or heart tests before his fight.
Said Dr O'Muircheartaigh, who noted he was not speaking specifically on Pradip's case as the full medical report will only be released in the next two months: "It's not advisable for a novice to sign up for a fight the day prior to the event. This is based on the risks involved in the sport and the preparation required to minimise the associated risks.
"Both the individual and the organisation have responsibilities in this regard."
He noted that a professional fighter was not medically cleared to fight at an UFC event in Japan a day before it took place on Friday, and was pulled by organisers due to health and safety concerns.
For One Championship's Chatri, while this incident is tragic, it is not representative of other fight organisers or promoters.
He said: "This is unfortunately a black eye not just for martial arts, but for all sports.
"I don't think it's a reflection of the martial arts industry, or global sports properties."
• Additional reporting by Alvin Chia