SINGAPORE - Before the pandemic, boxing events at the Fight Pro-Motion gym along Joo Chiat Road were quaint affairs.
Some 400 spectators would pack the courtyard of the gym and, sat on plastic chairs set up around the main stage - a squared ring - generate an electric fight night atmosphere once the combatants stepped through the ropes.
It will be different this Saturday (March 12), however, when the aptly-named 'A New Beginning' event marks the return of professional boxing in the Republic since the pandemic, which halted a steady rise that began in 2016.
Safe management measures in place mean that the card of 12 bouts - four of which are pro fights featuring Singaporean boxers against Malaysian opponents - will be split over four waves, the first of which will begin as early as 2pm.
A maximum of 80 people are allowed for each wave, with spectators making up about three-quarters of that. Most of the available tickets, priced $45 each, have already been taken up by teammates and members of gyms the fighters hail from, who are given priority.
Co-organiser Arvind Lalwani admitted the restrictions will likely mean a more muted setting than before but added: "It's a start. We need to do this, and to get the fight scene going again."
Lalwani, 41, is the founder of the Singapore Fighting Championship (SFC), a multi-disciplinary event that features boxing, muay thai and kick-boxing. Since December 2014 he has staged eight SFC events, which typically attract between 300 and 500 spectators, although the last was in September 2019.
The cost of staging such combat sport events, he added, has risen.
For example, the average cost of bringing a boxer in from Malaysia - which includes his fight purse, travel and accommodation - before the pandemic was about $400.
For 'A New Beginning', each fighter set Lalwani and his co-promoter Willip Ho, who owns Fight Pro-Motion, back about three times more.
In addition, having the event spread over a longer period of time - about double - adds to manpower costs.
Despite all of this, Lalwani is still buzzing.
"I'm very excited because it has been a while since we did an event," he said. "Hopefully, this will build momentum for future editions, especially with the rules (on gatherings) also easing over time."
Lalwani said he and Ho hope to stage five boxing events like 'A New Beginning' in 2022, in addition to his own SFC bouts and Ho resuming muay thai and kickboxing events, which he frequently organised pre-pandemic.
Singaporean boxer Amanda Chan, who will face Malaysia's Norbiatul Adawiah, is also relishing the opportunity to step through the ropes again.
The 31-year-old, a coach at the Juggernaut Fight Club gym owned by Lalwani, has trained twice a day, six days a week to prepare for her bout, and said she is feeling "a mix of nerves and excitement" ahead of Saturday.
Chan is undefeated in two pro fights - both won via unanimous decision - but this will be her first pro bout since June 2019.
"Right now I have the same feeling as the one I had before my first fight, where I really wanted to do well and showcase the skill I've been working to develop," she said.
The crowd, even if sparser than before, will still be a huge boost.
"Hearing them calling out my name in support really helps make me feel more comfortable and secure in my own space," she added. "That's one advantage I'll have on Saturday."