MMA: UFC to return to Singapore on June 17 after three-year absence

File photo of Belgium's Tarec Saffiedine (right) against Korea’s Lim Hyun Gyu in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship show in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands on Jan 4, 2014.
File photo of Belgium's Tarec Saffiedine (right) against Korea’s Lim Hyun Gyu in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship show in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands on Jan 4, 2014. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The world's biggest MMA (mixed martial arts) promotion, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), will return to Singapore on June 17 after a three-year absence.

UFC announced on Thursday (Feb 23) that their famous octagon cage will be put up at Singapore Indoor Stadium.

It will be UFC's second fight night in Singapore, following their first show held at the Marina Bay Sands three years ago.

Joe Carr, UFC's senior vice-president, head of international and content, told the media at a briefing at the Grand Hyatt that an announcement on the fight card will be gradually unveiled in four to six weeks.

He said: "We'll have a lot of top talents from this region, but we'll still have some bigger international stars."

Fans here greeted the news with excitement. Aaron Luke Rozells, a 23-year-old full-time national serviceman, hopes to see his favourite star Georges St-Pierre, a two-time UFC welterweight champion, in Singapore.

Besides St-Pierre, other stars on the UFC roster include Conor McGregor, Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey and Daniel Cormier.

Rozells said: "We would usually not be able to see the live action because most of their events are held in the United States."

The UFC also announced that they will be staging three events in Asia, and two in Australia and New Zealand, this year.

The Las Vegas-based promotion are the latest world-class sports show in town, after the Singapore Grand Prix (Formula One), the HSBC Women's Champions and the recent SMBC Singapore Open (golf), Super Rugby and HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens, OUE Singapore Open (badminton) and the season-ending Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Finals.

Last year, UFC did not host an event in Asia, after their Manila event inOctober was cancelled at the last minute. UFC visited Asia five times in 2014 (Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Saitama in Japan and twice in Macau), and thrice in 2015 (Manila, Saitama and Seoul).

UFC have two offices in Asia - one in Singapore and another in Shanghai. The UFC claimed they have 269 million fans worldwide and 35 per cent of them, or about 93 million, are from Asia.

It added that of an estimated 1.5 million MMA fans in Singapore, a million are UFC fans.

Carr said: "We have a ton of room to grow. They might be MMA fans but they might not be UFC fans."

He added that one of the key aims of UFC is to grow their presence in the Asian market by grooming and developing the region's local MMA heroes.

Currently, out of about 530 fighters from over 44 countries signed by the UFC, about 30 fighters are from the Asia Pacific.

He said: "We don't have, and we've never had, an Asia Pacific champion. That's very much at the top of our mind as we think about this market - how we can take Asian talents to the next level.

"We're on the verge of signing a premier Chinese fighter. I think it's only a matter of time before we have an Asian champion."

He insisted that UFC are not losing out to One Championship, a Singapore-based MMA promotion which held 14 events in Asia last year, including two in Singapore.

He said: "They (One Championship) 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."

UFC are reportedly valued at US$4 billion (S$5.66 billion) - the amount they were sold for last July to global media giant WME IMG.

Carr said: "I know that there was talk in the media about UFC scaling back internationally. But it's the complete opposite. We have a lot more firepower and a lot more capacity to take it to the next level."

Singaporean Royston Wee was the only local fighter to feature at the UFC's event in 2014, when he fought in a bantamweight undercard.