SINGAPORE - Twenty-one is often viewed as a milestone in a person's life, the year at which one supposedly comes of age.
And so, 21 years after making its first foray in Asia, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) yesterday issued a strong statement of intent by announcing the construction of a performance institute in Shanghai, China.
Located in the Jing'an district in Shanghai, the facility, which is slated to open in the middle of next year, will also serve as its Asia-Pacific headquarters.
The move underlines the American mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's seriousness about increasing its profile and reach in Asia.
The institute will span 9,000 sq m, about thrice the size of the US$14 million (S$19.2 million) facility that opened in May last year at its Las Vegas global headquarters. The cost of the China facility, whose construction is already underway, is undisclosed.
Besides being helmed by coaches in the various MMA disciplines, it will also be staffed by experts in disciplines such as sports science, strength and conditioning, and nutrition.
Its features include a hypoxic lab, cryotherapy chamber, underwater treadmill, flotation tank and the use of camera analysis and motion capture technology - all elements designed to "provide athletes with world-class performance optimisation to increase elite physical human potential".
The UFC staged its first event in Asia in 1997, in Yokohama, Japan. It has since staged 33 events in the Asia-Pacific region, with 19 of them in Asia, including three in Singapore.
UFC vice-president of Asia-Pacific Kevin Chang said that while the company has a strong focus on developing fighters from China, the performance institute in Shanghai will also be a base for them to train and assess fighters from all over the Asia-Pacific region, with the hope of producing more Asian talent for the UFC.
Out of the current UFC roster of about 500 fighters, only 27 hail from the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Australia and New Zealand. Ten are from China, with seven each from South Korea and Japan, and the Philippines, India and Guam all having one fighter each.
"The Performance Institute Shanghai gives our athletes (in Asia) a very clear path, which has not been as defined in the past," said Chang.
"It gives us the opportunity to evaluate a lot more athletes from the region, including Singapore and all of South-east Asia, to feed them into something which serves as an intermediary step that is so desperately needed right now to bridge the gap between other promotions and the UFC."
UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein added that the performance institute demonstrated the company's strong commitment to China and the strong investment it has made in the Asia-Pacific region.
The announcement comes four days before its Fight Night 141 event in Beijing, its second show in China after last November's debut, Fight Night 122, in Shanghai.
In June, the UFC also announced a strategic partnership with the Singapore Sports Hub and Singapore Tourism Board, for the first multi-year live event deal in the Asia-Pacific region. Under the deal, it will stage annual Fight Night events at the Singapore Indoor Stadium till 2020.