MMA: Historic one title fight on the cards?

Singapore-based Angela Lee became One Championship's first women's world champion when she beat Japan's Mei Yamaguchi.
Singapore-based Angela Lee became One Championship's first women's world champion when she beat Japan's Mei Yamaguchi.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

One C'ship chief hints that a S'porean MMA fighter may vie for a belt as early as this year

A Singaporean mixed martial artist could this year fight for a One Championship title belt for the first time.

Victor Cui, the Singapore-based MMA promotion's chief executive officer, hinted: "It's going to happen very soon. I would hope to make that happen this year.

"It depends on the up-and-coming Singapore fighters. We are always looking for opportunities for the Singapore fighter who can become a hero."

And that historic moment could happen in a tantalising "mega global event" which Cui is eager to pull off "either at the end of 2017 or in the beginning of 2018".

He enthused: "When a major music star such as Beyonce or Kanye West comes in, and at the same time, to be able to showcase a Singaporean star compete for a title at that same stage - it would be phenomenal and so awesome."

These are exciting times in the continuing development of One Championship in Asia, and Cui acknowledged that there have been challenges facing Singapore's MMA scene in the past year.

He said: "There are some things about Singapore that makes it more challenging.

"For instance, having a smaller base of fighters and people involved in the scene.

"I wouldn't say that Singapore fighters are not ready for a title shot, but more athletes are emerging. You see people who are accomplished and experienced athletes from judo and silat backgrounds who are transitioning to MMA."

FIGHTING CHANCE

It depends on the up-and-coming Singapore fighters. We are always looking for opportunities for the Singapore fighter who can become a hero.

VICTOR CUI, One Championship's chief executive officer, on the possibility of a Singaporean mixed martial artist fighting for a One Championship title belt for the first time.

While no Singaporean has ever fought in a One Championship title bout yet, Canada-born Angela Lee - who is based in Singapore and trains at Evolve MMA - won the women's atomweight belt last May.

Yesterday, One Championship announced that the 20-year-old will defend her title against Taiwanese fighter Jenny Huang on March 11 in Bangkok. It will be her first title defence.

Both fighters boast undefeated professional MMA records coming into the event at Impact Arena, which is named One: Warrior Kingdom. Lee is 6-0, while Huang, 25, is 5-0.

Lee said: "I am so excited for my first title defence. After I won the belt, I took some time off, but the goal for 2017 is to be an active champion and to stay busy.

"Since my last fight, I've been training extremely hard, improving my skill sets.

"I've been watching Jenny in her last few fights. This is going to be a great fight and it will be exciting for the fans to see how our styles match up."

Cui added: "I think it will be a clash of similar styles, both of them have a strong ground game."

Even though Lee's stock has skyrocketed following her success inside the cage, Cui cautioned against peaking too early.

He said: "She's still very young, and with youth comes impatience, and that could pose a challenge to her. As you become more experienced as a fighter, the more times you would see a story unfold, then the better you would get.

"Every fighter's got to improve. The moment you stop improving, you fail.

"And for a champion, what's more important is what defines her outside of the cage. She's shown dedication, hard work and humility - these are great characteristics and values of martial arts and that's why people connect with her."

One Championship has lined up 18 events this year, including two in Singapore - on May 26 and Nov 24 - and it is targeting to add another six more to its fight calendar this year.

But while the promotion has been expanding its presence in Asia and eager to break into new markets like Japan and South Korea, Cui remains committed to feeding its core market in Singapore.

He said: "Singapore is our home market and our hometown. We're always looking for ways we can innovate and to create a whole different level of sporting entertainment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Historic one title fight on the cards?'. Print Edition | Subscribe