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This week marks a seminal moment for the sport of mixed martial arts in Asia. Saturday the UFC officially returns to Singapore for the first time since 2014 with Fight Night: Holm vs Correia. But the action in Singapore started much sooner.
The UFC partnered with the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation to deliver the inaugural Asian Open Championships to Singapore. The amateur tournament started Monday and concludes Friday and is another opportunity for the sport to gain awareness and attention in Asia.
UFC.com spoke with IMMAF representatives from Malaysia and Singapore to discuss the Asian Open, Asian fighters’ dreams of reaching the UFC and in general the growth of MMA in their regions.
How does the IMMAF’s Asian Open help spread awareness?
Brent Yap, of IMMAF Malaysia: The Asian Open is very special and important to drive the growth and awareness of MMA as the sport is only starting to gain acceptance as a modern sport especially among some of the conservative Asian societies due to its close association as a modern blood sport. Through the network of IMMAF, national federations are now able to gain a closer opportunity to communicate with their own government and authorities to promote amateur MMA as a sport and indirectly this will help spur local interest and draw investors and sponsors to become long term stakeholders which are necessary to enable gyms, athletes, fans, the relevant authorities and promoters to come together.
What are you seeing from the communities and the athletes that show promise of the sport growing?
Yap: The talent pool in Malaysia is growing and amateurs are now willing to be exposed to the highest level of amateur MMA competition at elite international level. There is an active growth of MMA gyms in the cities and some traditional martial arts gym are either transitioning or by themselves are now teaching MMA classes. More women are also willing to try and compete in actual MMA fight bouts. Certain local MMA shows are also broadcasted live and on tapings on national TV such as the aforesaid Malaysian Invasion amateur competition
Do a lot of fighters aspire to reach the UFC?
Nurul Shehan, of IMMAF Singapore: It is all the fighter’s dreams to fight for UFC. If given the opportunity, platforms and guidance, there can be more local fighters, training and fighting for the UFC.
What has growth of MMA been like in your area?
Yap: In Malaysia, MMA is now more structured and dynamic thanks to the involvement of corporate entities. Malaysia has several active amateur-professional MMA promotions in key developmental states including Ultimate Beatdown, Jesselton Fight League, Warrior Fight League, Kinabalu Fight Fest and the latest Rampage FC. Agilan Thani, a Malaysian professional MMA fighter, recently challenged top MMA champion Ben Askren for the ONE championship Welterweight belt. Some regional promotions such as FULL METAL DOJO from Thailand also work hand in hand to promote Malaysian fighters in its events. The Malaysia Mixed Martial Arts Association sanctions amateur MMA competition at the national level and is affiliated with the amateur MMA global sanctioning body the IMMAF.
Shehan: MMA in Singapore has grown tremendously over the past years. Organizations have done large promotions for MMA, be it for amateurs or professional championships.