MMA: Singapore could become an annual UFC pit stop

Holly Holm (left) and Bethe Correia facing off before their main event in the UFC Fight Night Singapore on June 17.
Holly Holm (left) and Bethe Correia facing off before their main event in the UFC Fight Night Singapore on June 17.PHOTO: UFC/GETTY IMAGES

SINGAPORE - Saturday's Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Fight Night 111 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium is just the mixed martial arts (MMA) promoter's second event here, but UFC's senior vice-president of international and content Joe Carr has not ruled out the possibility of the Republic being an annual pit stop on the calendar.

UFC's last event here was in 2014, when it held an event at Marina Bay Sands that attracted a 5,000-strong crowd.

Carr told The Straits Times on Thursday (June 15) that the United States-based promoter had been "cautiously optimistic" about its comeback, but discovered that ticket sales had "exceeded expectations".

He added: "The maximum we would get in Singapore is probably one event a year but based on the success we've had this week, we're having discussions about potentially making it an annual stop.

"That's something that we're thinking about and working towards because we really see Singapore as the hub of MMA for South-east Asia."

Saturday's main event features MMA star Holly Holm, popularly known as the fighter who halted Ronda Rousey's unbeaten streak and ended her three-year reign as UFC women's bantamweight champion.

Rival promoter One Championship, based in Singapore, last month staged a fight headlined by home favourite Angela Lee and US Olympian Ben Askren.

Carr, however, is not concerned about One Championship's dominance in the Asian market.

UFC will hold two other events in Asia - one in Tokyo in September and the other in November - with the venue set to be announced in the next few weeks.

The initial challenge of entering the Asian market, said Carr, was that MMA was a "young" sport and not as well known a few years ago.

"It's just grown so rapidly since, with a lot of it based on what we've done and our TV distribution here," added the 33-year-old, who gave credit to One Championship and Korea-based Road FC for helping to grow the sport at the grassroots level.

"Asia has just embraced MMA and combat sports over the last few years ... the sport's a lot more popular, the business is a lot stronger and we're able to come in here and be successful and I think you're just going to see that continue throughout the rest of the region as the sport continues to grow."

cnicole@sph.com.sg