MMA: Showcasing local talent vital for Singapore Fighting Championship boss

Singapore's only professional woman boxer, Nurshahidah Roslie, after winning her Universal Boxing Organisation intercontinental super featherweight title on Friday. She beat Thai Wondergirl Sithsaithong.
Singapore's only professional woman boxer, Nurshahidah Roslie, after winning her Universal Boxing Organisation intercontinental super featherweight title on Friday. She beat Thai Wondergirl Sithsaithong.THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTO

Far from the glitz of Las Vegas and lacking the splendour of Madison Square Garden, the Singapore Fighting Championship (SFC) fight nights have a sweaty underground feel.

Devotees eager to satiate their appetite for knockouts cram into a ballroom, where chandeliers hang just a few metres above the fighters in the ring.

The 700-seat Singapore Futsing Association, which hosted SFC's third fight night and a full-house crowd that paid $50 each on Friday, is about 17 times smaller than the Singapore Indoor Stadium, which hosted mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion One Championship's event last month.

The Singapore promotion might not boast the likes of glamorous MMA sensation Angela Lee, but its local brand makes the organisation stand tall in its own right.

SFC president Arvind Lalwani said: "We put up the best local fighters in Singapore and we give them an opportunity to compete. There are not too many promotions out there.

"We had to travel to Malaysia and Thailand to fight. I was getting sick of promotions cancelling fights, which happened three or four times in 2014. So I said I was going to start my own."

The first fight night took place in December 2014, attracting between 200 and 300 fans. The second edition took place in February, with crowd numbers doubling.

With over 19 years of boxing and martial arts experience, Lalwani, a former national boxing coach, is well regarded within the local fighting fraternity. The 36-year-old, who runs Juggernaut Fight Club, said: "I've known the scene on the ground for the last 20 years. People know me and I know who the best guys are out there."

Last year's SEA Games boxing bronze medallist Muhamad Ridhwan, 29, defeated his Indonesian opponent Egi Rozten in the third round in front of 120 of his friends from Legends Fight Sport on Friday.

It was one of 13 fights that night. Some of the fighters hailed from Uzbekistan to the United States.

But Ridhwan noted: "The most unique thing is its strong local flavour and vibe. It takes more than holding up a Singapore flag and singing the National Anthem. We have born and bred local fighters in here."

Lalwani sees a future in his growing promotion. Through SFC, Singaporean fighters hope to be spotted by top-tier promotions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and One Championship.

Lalwani said: "How many people can get an opportunity to fight in such organisations unless you know somebody?

"In a way, when you're in a feeder, it's a good thing. These guys have the opportunity to build themselves up. When you don't have any fight experience, and you go on to lose in the big organisation, you look really bad. We don't kill the sport and the fighters in that way.

"We support the growth of the sport in Singapore. Starting off at the grassroots, building them up and making them champions."

Fight nights feature a menu of kickboxing, boxing and MMA.

Singapore's only professional female boxer, Nurshahidah Roslie, 29, said: "A distinctive thing of the SFC is that they do multiple combat sports at the same time. That sets it apart from the rest."

Professional muay thai and kickboxer Terrence Teo, 25, is hoping to make it to the K-1 (kickboxing promotion) in the future.

He said: "It's just like musicians who started out as buskers, then they join talent shows like The Voice and get noticed.

"Likewise, the SFC is our chance to showcase our talents and it is a stepping stone for us. We have to all start somewhere before getting into the big organisations."

For now, Lalwani will retain the SFC's raw, unpolished form. He said: "I don't want to go to Suntec City or the Sports Hub for now. I want to keep to our image... the underground kind of feel. We want to keep it at the grassroots level."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Showcasing local talent vital for SFC boss'. Print Edition | Subscribe