Boxing: Fighters ready to get in the box seat

Singapore's Nurshahidah Roslie (right) throwing a punch at Ratsadaporn Khiaosopa at The Roar of Singapore. She knocked out the Thai in the second round. The new event at the Singapore Foochow Association also saw Rafi Majid become Singapore's first m
Singapore's Nurshahidah Roslie (right) throwing a punch at Ratsadaporn Khiaosopa at The Roar of Singapore. She knocked out the Thai in the second round. The new event at the Singapore Foochow Association also saw Rafi Majid become Singapore's first male professional boxing title holder. Organisers Ringstar Management believe people want to see more fights and their local heroes in action.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE

Boxing is making a comeback in S'pore as fighters and promoters sense an opportunity

At age six, Singaporean Hamzah Farouk watched a replay of Muhammad Ali's defeat of Sonny Liston and decided that he, too, wanted to be a boxing champion.

He started to box at 16 but by the age of 24, his career had suffered a knockout blow. The lack of amateur boxing competitions, a spate of injuries, and having to juggle studies, work and the sport meant his dream had to be sacrificed.

But, parallel to the resurgence of boxing in Singapore, Hamzah made his return last year.

At the age of 28, he is now a professional boxer, winning on his professional debut last week at the Battle of Champions boxing event. He beat Malaysia's Rahmat Munadjab in the lightweight division by a unanimous decision.

"I joined Fit to Fight (gym) last year because I wanted to get back in shape and keep fit," said Hamzah, who is also a trainer at the gym. "With all these promoters coming in and after watching a few professional fights, I decided to make all the necessary sacrifices to make my childhood dream come true. There are so many opportunities right now, with more promoters bringing world-class fights to Singapore and letting us experience them - it's the best time for us to step up in the professional ranks."

After a long hiatus, boxing is making a comeback in Singapore with promoters staging more events.

Promoters The Sunday Times spoke to said Singapore has the potential to become a boxing hub.

Ringstar Management, which organised The Roar of Singapore at Singapore Foochow Association yesterday, will host three more shows this year.

Ringstar founder Scott O'Farrell said: "The scene is still raw and new but I see a lot of potential, because people want to see more fights and their local heroes fight.

"Boxing is not just about the elites but there is a good gym and fitness culture about it too."

  • Milestones in S'pore pro boxing

  • JUNE 10, 2016 

    Nurshahidah Roslie becomes Singapore's first professional boxing champion, winning the Universal Boxing Organisation (UBO) Female Intercontinental super featherweight title at the Singapore Fighting Championship third edition.

    FEB 17, 2017 

    Rafi Majid (below) is Singapore's first male professional boxing champion, knocking out Thailand's Plaisakda Boonmalert to win the UBO super middleweight Asia-Pacific title at the Roar of Singapore.

Cartel International Promotions' chief executive officer Vikram Sivapragasam added: "There are also many young talents emerging here... we want to create new opportunities for young boxers."

Combat gyms here are seeing an increase in attendance.

Spartans Boxing Club owner Russell Harrison said: "From mid-2016 till now, the number of people who have signed up have doubled per month. More than 50 people signed up last month."

Hamzah added: "When I first started, there would be fewer than 10 people in the gym training, and right now it's packed every day - there are 15 to 20 people at a time.

"More corporate professionals are taking up boxing, and more ladies are joining as well."

Nurshahidah Roslie, Singapore's first professional boxing champion, also noted that more women are picking up the sport.

She said: "There used to be a lack of women fighters - I was once told at the last minute that they couldn't find female opponents for me.

"But things have changed, especially with more events being organised... it's good to see that more people are boxing and it's cool to be part of this growth."

Arvind Lalwani, who owns combat gym Juggernaut Fight Club, agrees. According to him, fewer than 10 per cent of gym-goers were female when Juggernaut opened in 2011, but that figure has now increased to about 30 per cent. While there were fewer than 10 female gym-goers then, he estimates that there are about 50 to 60 now.

But local boxers - amateur and professional alike - said the sport has to fight negative stereotypes in its battle for acceptance.

Spartans Boxing Club trainer and amateur boxer Danish Husli, 20, believes some still think boxing is a "hooligan sport", while Hamzah admitted that it is tough to make a livelihood in the ring.

Hamzah declined to reveal how much he earns, but said the amount that professional boxers take home depends on ticket sales.

He added: "I think in five years, as promoters and those in the boxing scene learn from experience, everything will be more solid. More boxers will be brought in and fights will be staged at bigger venues and public interest will be greater - only then will boxing be sustainable as a profession."

When Nurshahidah made her professional debut at last February's Singapore Fighting Championships 2 at the Le Danz ballroom on Queen Street, the lightweight category she competed in had a prize purse of $500.

While Singapore Amateur Boxing Association president Syed Abdul Kadir acknowledged the increase in professional boxing events here, he cautioned that promoters must "be strict with the fighters they bring in" in the interest of the boxers' safety.

He said: "Professionals should ideally go through amateur boxing first so they can pick up experience and develop the technical intelligence and know-how of proper boxing. If not, I think the sport will be in danger. Many boxers might think of becoming a pro straightaway but this is dangerous, because they may not have the experience."

Still, those in the boxing industry, such as Vikram, believe the scene will grow even more within the next five years.

PULL NO PUNCHES

There are so many opportunities right now, with more promoters bringing world-class fights to Singapore and letting us experience them - it's the best time for us to step up in the professional ranks.

HAMZAH FAROUK , a gym trainer , on why he became a professional boxer last year.

Said the 36-year-old: "(The World Boxing Council world silver welterweight title bout) will show the rest of the world that Singapore can host an event of such great magnitude, and the local boxers will be motivated by the prospect of fighting on such a prestigious card. Boxing is here to stay in Singapore."

Hamzah dreams of the day when boxers' names are up in lights.

He said: "I think Singapore could be the Las Vegas of South-east Asia in the next five to 10 years."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Fighters ready to get in the box seat'. Print Edition | Subscribe