Global mixed martial arts (MMA) powerhouse Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) yesterday announced an aggressive plan to open 15 franchise gyms across Singapore over the next 10 years - a move that underscores the growth of combat sport gyms over the past decade.
Based on a 2017 census of sports facilities by national sports agency Sport Singapore, there are about 175 private and public gyms in Singapore, up from about 150 in 2010. These gyms serve the fitness needs of both health and adrenaline enthusiasts, who according to industry experts number about 50,000.
While a number have closed - most notably, popular chain California Fitness in 2016 - many combat sport gyms, which typically focus on common MMA disciplines such as boxing, muay thai or jiu-jitsu, have sprouted in their place.
UFC, whose fighters like Conor McGregor have achieved mainstream fame, will partner local brand NF Fitness with the first UFC Gym to open by next February. The various gym locations will focus on boxing, kickboxing and also high Intensity interval training (Hiit)to cater to a more mass-market audience.
Started in 2009, UFC Gym has opened in more than 150 locations across 11 countries in both North and South America, the Middle East and also Asia. Asia is seen as an emerging market, which, according to a recent International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association report, is worth more than US$16 billion (S$21.8 billion) in revenue. The Singapore market is estimated to be worth about US$24 million.
Details about Singapore pricing were not revealed as UFC has not confirmed its membership model here, UFC Gym president Adam Sedlack said.
Into its 10th year, Evolve now has four outlets - three in the city area and a fourth at One KM Mall. The top local MMA gym boasts world champions of muay thai, Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ), MMA and boxing among its instructors. Its fighters - including Rafael dos Anjos and Angela Lee - have competed in international fight promotions such as the UFC, One Championship, Dream, Pride FC and Bellator.
Opened in 2002, Fight G is said to be the first MMA gym here. It offers boxing, muay thai, BJJ, MMA and conditioning courses.
Founder Bruce Loh is touted as Singapore's first professional MMA fighter after he made his fighting bow in 2003 in Indonesia. Impact groomed Singapore's first and only UFC fighter, Royston Wee.
JUGGERNAUT FIGHT CLUB
Led by former national amateur boxer Arvind Lalwani, several of Juggernaut's trainers have made the leap into professional boxing, most notably Nurshahidah Roslie, who in 2016 became Singapore's first pro boxing champion.
Equilibrium specialises in coaching BJJ and muay thai. It also offers classes for kids.
MMA no longer seen as just a blood sport
He said: "We will not be the least expensive gym in town, but we will give you the best value."
He added: "The UFC Gym is on an aggressive growth plan globally. We've entered some strategic markets over the last few years and we always knew Singapore was going to be a fantastic market for us."
Mr Arvind Lalwani, managing director of Juggernaut Fight Club, attributed the increasing popularity of such gyms to a change in the perception of combat sports over the last decade.
"Eight to 10 years ago, if you said you wanted to do boxing, people think you have to get into the ring, spar, get bloodied up," said the former national amateur boxer. "But people now know it can be a good workout - even if you just work on the bags or your technique.
"A person who has a regular gym membership might go into a gym, run on the treadmill or do aerobics... It's boring, and you get switched off."
Evolve MMA, which started in 2009 at PoMo in Selegie Road, now has four locations.
Its senior vice-president of operations, Mr Wesley de Souza, said: "There has been a shift with people going to martial arts as a form of working out and keeping fit.Our oldest student is 73 years old and our youngest is four. We even have tourists who come down to train at our gyms."
CIMB Private Bank economist Song Seng Wun said there is still room in the fitness industry for expansion.
He said: "Singapore is a tiny market, but an affluent one. There is certainly interest... I think there are no signs it is reaching saturation point. It is a question of how well the gyms are managed, and how they differentiate themselves from others."
The number of options for fitness enthusiasts is a boon, said avid MMA fan Brian Lim.
The 30-year-old sales executive has a membership with a regular gym chain but is considering making a switch to an MMA one.
He said: "Fight sport is so popular now that many regular gyms also offer boxing and kickboxing classes.
"With a name like UFC coming in, I'm sure there will be many people interested to see if they can offer something different to what is already available here."