The famous Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Octagon will make its return to Singapore this year after a three-year absence with a live event on June 17 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
While the list of fighters and bouts will be unveiled in the upcoming weeks, Joe Carr, UFC's senior vice-president of international and content, promised that the show will feature a strong line-up.
He told The Straits Times on the sidelines of a media conference yesterday: "We'll have a local flair and local fighters from the Asian region. But we're still going to have our big international fighters and stars on the card.
"This is not a local Asia series. This is part of our UFC Fight Nights - no different from the ones in the United States or Brazil or Europe. So it'll be of the same quality."
UFC, the world's biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, will hold another two events in Asia and two in Australia and New Zealand this year. This is in sharp contrast to last year's schedule which had none in Asia. Last October's event in Manila was cancelled at the last minute.
In 2014, UFC visited the continent five times (Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Saitama in Japan and twice in Macau), and thrice in 2015 (Manila, Saitama and Seoul).
This is not a local Asia series. This is part of our UFC Fight Nights - no different from the ones in the United States or Brazil or Europe. So it'll be of the same quality.
JOE CARR, UFC senior vice-president of international and content, on the Singapore fight event.
Breaking into the burgeoning market of Asia and expanding its presence has become a priority for the Las Vegas-based company, Carr added.
UFC has two offices in Asia - in Singapore and Shanghai - and claimed to have 269 million fans worldwide with about a third, or about 93 million, from Asia.
It added that of an estimated 1.5 million MMA fans in Singapore, a million are UFC fans.
Local fans greeted the news with excitement. Full-time national serviceman Aaron Luke Rozells hopes to see his favourite fighter and two-time UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Rozells, 23, said: "I'd love to see them (UFC) here more often and I hope this would not just be a one-time thing."
UFC's acquisition by global media giant WME IMG last July for US$4 billion (S$5.66 billion) has given them "a lot more firepower and a lot more capacity to take it to the next level", Carr noted.
UFC has about 530 fighters from over 44 countries on its roster, including MMA superstars Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. Only about 30 fighters are from the Asia-Pacific.
Carr believes that unearthing a UFC champion from the Asia-Pacific would help the brand entrench itself in this region.
He was dismissive of the threat posed by Singapore-based MMA promotion, One Championship, which started in 2011. One Championship held 14 events in Asia last year, including two in Singapore, and have 24 planned for this year.
Carr said: "They have been successful in developing talent in the South-east Asia region in the developmental league level.
"We've always seen ourselves at the most elite level. I'm happy that they've grown the sport at the grassroots level in this region and they've brought more awareness. But in MMA, the best talents will gravitate towards UFC."
One Championship's chief executive officer Victor Cui welcomed the competition. He told ST: "For many fans in Asia, their introduction to MMA is through One. When we started, they (UFC) had already held events in Asia. So that's not anything new to us.
"We're just focusing on showcasing the best Asian and world-class athletes on our roster."
•Additional reporting by Jonathan Wong