MMA: Muted atmosphere at Inside The Matrix but fans welcome semblance of normalcy

250 spectators, subject to safe distancing, were allowed into One Championship's Inside The Matrix event at the Indoor Stadium on Oct 30, 2020. ST PHOTO: SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ

SINGAPORE - Instead of blaring loud music and a red carpet, attendees at One Championship's Inside The Matrix event on Friday night (Oct 30) were greeted by stanchions with red belts and a multitude of ushers wearing face shields outside the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Not that the uncharacteristically muted atmosphere outside the arena mattered to the lucky 250 fans, who were the first to get the opportunity to watch a live sport event in the Republic since the coronavirus pandemic.

Financial adviser Ian Leo Tay, 33 told The Straits Times: "Being out here feels like we're getting back a bit of our normal life.

"Even though it's only 250 people it's a good start, and hopefully this one turns out well so in the future we can have bigger events with more people."

The limited crowd for Inside The Matrix comes three weeks after One's previous closed-door show, Reign of Dynasties, which was also held at the same venue.

The events are part of a pilot project the Government hopes will help identify a model that can be widely implemented so that more large-scale events can resume safely in Singapore.

Friday night's spectators were required to undergo an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) at one of 10 designated clinics on the same day, and produce a valid negative ART certificate before they were allowed into the venue.

ARTs return results in under half an hour, compared to the gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test which takes a few hours. Both procedures are similar.

It was the first swab test Tay had undergone, and while he admitted with a wry smile that it was "a bit uncomfortable", he added he did not feel inconvenienced by all the extra measures.

"The only thing extra was the test, really," said the MMA fan, who tries to attend of all One's shows in Singapore. "The process as a whole was quite smooth sailing. The instructions were very clear so we knew what we had to do."

In addition to the testing protocols, attendees accessed the Indoor Stadium through five separate entrances, with ushers and marshals ensuring safe distancing was adhered to throughout.

Inside, spectators were sparsely seated, with only about 10 per cent of the 10,000-capacity arena's seats allocated for them.

Another spectator, 36-year-old engineer Nay Zar, also gave the thumbs up to the organisation of the event.

"Everything was very fast," said the Myanmarese, who attended the event to support countryman Aung La N Sang, One's middleweight and light heavyweight champion.

"I have been to other events where there are problems, but not here. One Championship's arrangement is very nice."

Based in Singapore for the past 12 years, Nay works in the construction line and has been tested regularly - Friday's ART was his 13th swab test - so he explained he had no issues being evaluated again.

"It's expected for an event like this," he added. "I think Singapore is already for more opportunities of live events like this and I hope more come back soon."

It was clear from the atmosphere inside the arena once the event started that the fans were hungry for live sports entertainment.

Enthusiastic applause and whoops of delight met the ring of the first bell for the opening bout between India's Ritu Phogat and Cambodia's Nou Srey Pov, and fans lapped up all the action throughout the three-hour event.

For Singapore's Tiffany Teo, who lost her fight with China's Xiong Jingnan for the women's strawweight title, the sight of fans in the Indoor Stadium was a welcome return. She had fought inside an almost-empty arena at One's closed door event in February.

She said: " The energy was really different. It was not a full stadium but I could hear everyone loud and clear.

"In a usual event with a big crowd, the sound is muffled... It was a different experience, for sure."

Inside the Matrix is One's biggest event of the year, and featured six fights, four of which were world title bouts. The event was broadcast live on the MMA organisation's official app and YouTube channel.

Inside the Matrix is One's biggest event of the year, and featured six fights, four of which were world title bouts.

One group president, Teh Hua Fung added: "What a thrilling evening in Singapore, and for One Championship it felt great to be home!

"Inside The Matrix was our biggest event this year, and what an event it was. Amazing action-packed performances all around, with two world titles changing hands.

"We expected this event to be exciting, but we weren't prepared for what we just witnessed. Congratulations to all the athletes, we know you all give your heart and soul to this sport. We, along with millions of fans around the world, would like to thank you for the inspiring performances tonight."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.