MMA: Revolution time as crowds return after 7 months to watch One C'ship bouts

Spectators queueing to enter the Singapore Indoor Stadium for the One Championship Revolution event on Sept 24, 2021.
Spectators queueing to enter the Singapore Indoor Stadium for the One Championship Revolution event on Sept 24, 2021.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Even before the gates to One Championship's mixed martial arts (MMA) event Revolution opened at 5.30pm on Friday (Sept 24), a queue had formed outside the Singapore Indoor Stadium's East entrance.

Despite the recent rise in Covid-19 cases - Singapore had reported 1,504 cases on Thursday night, its highest since the pandemic began - those who showed up early told The Straits Times they were confident that the measures in place would keep them safe.

Revolution is the first event by Singapore-based MMA organisation One to have spectators since Fists of Fury in February. All 500 tickets to Revolution, priced from $38 to $248, were snapped up soon after they went on sale on Sept 9.

British expatriate Gaurav Bathija, who was seen posing beside a giant One sign outside the arena with friends Vikrant Bhalla and Vivek Kaul, said it was the first time any of the three were attending a One event.

"We are fortunate enough that we are older and we can afford the VIP tickets," said Bathija, 45, who works in banking.

"Plus, we are confident in the social distancing and safe management measures that will be in place. The way we see it, we are not in a stadium where we're with 10,000 other people. It's no different than dining out or going to a mall."

Australian Bhalla, 41, who works in real estate, chipped in that another motivation for the trio to attend was that "there is nothing else to do".

All three are fully vaccinated and said that not having to go through the hassle of pre-event testing (PET) - a requirement for those not fully vaccinated - was an added bonus.

This was a sentiment echoed by Jasmine Tan, who had bought tickets for herself and her boyfriend Jerry Lim.

The couple, who are fully vaccinated, were also attending their first One event, and Tan said: "As long as we keep our masks on, and don't anyhow touch here and there, we will be okay."

All attendees to Revolution were required to have completed their second dose of vaccination two weeks before the event date.

Those who had not were required to undergo PET at Ministry of Health-approved clinics on the day of the event, with the cost of the test borne by the individual. Results from Antigen Rapid Test self-test kits are not accepted.

For Fists of Fury and four events prior to it, attendees were either required to undergo on-site ART tests at the Singapore Sports Hub, or ART tests at MOH-approved clinics on the day of the event, before they were allowed to enter the stadium.

For another spectator, who only gave his name as Junpei, the opportunity to go to an event like Revolution has been a long time coming.

The 33-year-old Japanese said he had wanted to attend One's King of the Jungle event in February 2020 to watch compatriot and MMA legend Yoshihiro Akiyama in action, but 10 days before the event, One announced that it would be held behind closed doors as the number of Covid-19 cases grew.

After a 19-month wait, Junpei was finally able to watch his countrymen in action. While Taiki Naito beat Petchdam Petchyindee Academy in a muay thai bout, Yosuke Saruta failed in his bid for Joshua Pacio’s MMA strawweight world title, losing via a first-round technical knockout (TKO).

"Almost everyone at this event will be vaccinated, so I think it will be okay," said Junpei, an office worker who has been based in Singapore for 2 ½ years.

"Maybe, there will be less shouting inside."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, One has worked with the Government to stage shows like Revolution in a bid to find a model that can be implemented so more large-scale events can resume safely in Singapore.

Among the safe management measures in place for Friday night's event were a requirement for patrons to check in to Safe Entry, have their masks on at all times, and to refrain from mingling with others. There was also safe distancing in the seating arrangements.

But these did not appear to affect the mood of the spectators, who made themselves heard despite the modest numbers. They left the arena entertained too.

Aside from Pacio’s win over Saruta, there were three other finishes on the six-bout main card, including 17-year-old Victoria Lee’s second-round TKO win over Brazil’s Victoria Souza in an atomweight MMA bout.

The win helped Lee, the younger sister of One atomweight world champion Angela, extend her perfect professional MMA record to three wins.

However, another of the Lee siblings, who are half-Singaporean and half-South Korean, suffered a defeat when Christian relinquished his lightweight world title to South Korea’s Ok Rae-yoon. Ok won the title via unanimous decision after a five-round battle.