SINGAPORE - Even as more experienced fight promoters in Singapore questioned the manner in which the Asia Fighting Championships (AFC) took place, the man behind the new muay thai event has maintained that it was run according to proper guidelines.
AFC founder and chief executive officer Sasidharan Unnithan said that the event, where tragedy struck when bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian died after his bout on Saturday night, followed standards and safety protocols set by sanctioning body World Muaythai Council (WMC).
Sasidharan, himself a long-time friend of Pradip and former colleagues at gym chain California Fitness, told The Straits Times yesterday at the wake that a medical team certified the fighters fit, according to guidelines laid out by the WMC.
"All the referees are WMC-certified... we had a ringside doctor with a full medical team on standby," the 38-year-old former gym general manager said.
He claimed that Pradip, 32, did a health check before the fight, and that a medical team and an ambulance was also on standby during the fight at Marina Bay Sands.
When questioned how much training was provided, given that Pradip was brought in as a replacement fighter a day before the event, Sasidharan noted that they had both taught kickboxing classes when they worked together at California Fitness.
Pradip, who was also president of World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation (WBPF), had replaced former Singapore Idol runner-up Sylvester Sim. The latter was originally slated to face Youtube personality Steven Lim for the event's "celebrity fight", but withdrew citing insurance problems.
Sasidharan declined to comment if scaling the fight down to two rounds of two minutes each, from the conventional WMC standard of five rounds of three minutes each, was done to help the relatively inexperienced fighters cope. He also declined to comment if Pradip was ready to take on Lim, given that he replaced Sim just a day before the AFC event was slated to take place.
More seasoned fight promoters, however, have expressed reservations about how the AFC was run. Some have even lambasted it for running a "highly irresponsible and reckless" event.
One Championship chairman and chief executive Chatri Sityodtong told ST: "In my opinion, there was a serious breach (of safety protocols). How could you put two untrained civilians with no background in martial arts and have them compete in a professional bout with no protective gear?
"They wanted entertainment at the expense of a human life. It's ludicrous, if you compare it to the standards and best practices of global sports properties. It's just so tragic and easily could've been avoided."
Chatri also questioned if adequate medical screening - including CAT scans, hydration tests - and preparation had been conducted before fighters were cleared to enter the ring.
"Just because you're a bodybuilder and you have big muscles doesn't mean you can fight," he added. "It takes years of training to hone your technique. Untrained civilians don't know how to protect themselves - which is the first rule of martial arts."
Arvind Lalwani, who heads the Singapore Fighting Championships (SFC) said he would have cancelled the fight in the event of a last-minute withdrawal. In fact, one of the fights at the sixth instalment of SFC, also held on Saturday night, was called off after one fighter did not turn up for the weigh-in.
All SFC fighters also have to go through a medical screening a month before the fight, before checks by a medical doctor a day before and on the day itself.
Said Arvind, a former national amateur boxer with more than two decades of boxing and martial arts experience: "This fight happened because the organisation knows nothing about organising fights. It's all pure entertainment for them.
"We know the liabilities involved in fighting and we keep to a high safety standard. This takes our sport back two notches."
Ringstar Management owner Scott O'Farrell declined comment on the incident, but gave assurance that Ringstar's events - such as the upcoming Roar of Singapore III next month - engage a fully-trained medical team and all its fights are sanctioned by the International Boxing Organisation.
Its fighters are also required to submit a full up-to-date serology report before their fights, on top of a full medical report from within the last six months. They are cleared by doctors multiple times before a fight.
According to Dr Cormac O'Muircheartaigh, a sports medicine physician and director of Sports Medicine Lab who is also medical consultant for UFC (Asia), completing all the necessary medical checks within 24 hours is unlikely - but not impossible.
But even after completing a screening process - which could include a cardiac echocardiogram, a chest x-ray , a treadmill exercise test and even a MRI of the brain - a fighting fit person is still not necessarily equipped to enter the ring.
It is understood that Pradip did not go through any MRI tests nor heart tests before his fight.
Said Dr O'Muircheartaigh, who noted he was not speaking specifically on Pradip's case as the full medical report is expected over the next two months: "It's not advisable for a novice to sign up for a fight the day prior to the event. This is based on the risks involved in the sport and the preparation required to minimise the associated risks.
"Both the individual and the organisation have responsibilities in this regard."
He noted that a professional fighter was not medically cleared to fight at a UFC event in Japan a day before it took place on Friday, and was pulled by organisers due to health and safety concerns.
For One Championship's Chatri, while this incident is tragic, it is not representative of other fight organisers or promoters.
He said: "This is unfortunately a black eye not just for martial arts, but for all sports. But it's an isolated event by a reckless and irresponsible promoter, someone with zero experience.
"I don't think it's a reflection of the martial arts industry, or global sports properties."