SINGAPORE - Over the last few years, mixed martial arts and boxing have grown in stature in Singapore, with several gyms popping up and promotions holding events here.
"But not a lot of people know about muay thai," said Wynn Neo, of the sport known as "the art of eight limbs" because competitors are permitted to use elbows and knees to strike an opponent - something which a similar sport, kickboxing - does not allow.
The 22-year-old is aiming to help change that when he fights to become one of Singapore's first two muay thai national champions on Saturday (June 29).
He will take on Vincent Chew for the World Boxing Council (WBC) muay thai featherweight (up to 57kg) national title at the Singapore Fighting Championship's SFC 7 event at the Juggernaut Fight Club on Seng Poh Road.
Neo added: "I hope this (bout) will help build some interest, so people here want to learn the sport, and try and reach a level where they can fight for major titles."
Also, Brandon Ng and Andre Seah will contest for the welterweight (up to 66kg) national title.
SFC founder Arvind Lalwani decided to introduce the two titles after being appointed the official representative for Singapore by the WBC muay thai body in February.
"We have a pretty good muay thai community but our fighters don't really get an opportunity to fight," said Lalwani, 39, a former national amateur boxer and trainer.
"There are some shows that feature muay thai but I want to see our fighters going to the next level. The winners will be national champions and will be able to climb the WBC rankings and get in line for a world title shot."
SFC 7 will also feature two amateur muay thai, five pro boxing and three amateur MMA fights.
Among the boxers in action are Singapore's top woman Nurshahidah Roslie (13 wins, two losses) who will fight Thailand's Siriphon Chanbuala (12 wins, eight losses, two draws). Muhammad Ashiq (6-1-1) will take on seasoned Thai Yotchanchai Yakaeo (26-14).
Providing a platform for local fighters to compete was the main reason Lalwani said he staged his first SFC event in 2014.
In the second edition of SFC in 2016, Singapore hosted a pro boxing title fight for the first time since 2012, a World Boxing Foundation Asia Pacific light heavyweight bout.
Lalwani said he has seen a steady growth in combat sport in Singapore since his first event, but added there is potential for much more.
"In terms of quality and interest, there has been an improvement, definitely," he said.
"But the fight scene here is still not big yet, when you compare it to the United States, for example, or many other countries. But hopefully, we're changing that."
• For SFC 7 event details, see SFC's Facebook page.