Singapore has its first-ever mixed martial artist (MMA) in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) -- and his name is Royston Wee.
Rumours have been swirling over the 26-year-old's signing with the global MMA giant since early November, and Yahoo Singapore can now confirm that Wee will fight Dave Galera of the Philippines on 4 January at Marina Bay Sands in a bantamweight battle watched by up to 6,000 "live" and millions more on TV.
The 1.7m-tall Wee is a full-time coach at Impact MMA academy whose striking background belies a fight record of two wins and no losses -- both by submission.
Earlier this year, he auditioned for a Chinese-language version of UFC reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter. It is believed Wee was not offered a spot on the final line-up in view of the UFC wanting him available for the Singapore card.
His opponent Galera, nicknamed "Scarecrow", is the interim bantamweight champion of Filipino MMA event Universal Reality Combat Championship.
The 1.8m-tall fighter trains out of the Team Lakay gym in Baguio City, alongside the likes of ONE Fighting Championship standouts Eduard Folayang, Honorio Banario and Kevin Belingon.
Galera's record of five wins and zero losses comprises three submission wins and four first-round finishes. His knack for the ground game sets up a classic striker-versus-grappler showdown with Wee at the first-ever UFC event in Southeast Asia.
"I believe I'm better than Dave in every aspect," Wee told Yahoo Singapore on Tuesday evening.
UFC's ten-bout showcase on 4 January will be headlined by welterweights Tarec Saffiedine and Hyun Gyu Lim and is the first in a series of events planned between Macau and Singapore in 2014.
Already immense in the Americas and Japan, the UFC has further set its sights on a region rapidly lapping up MMA, often dubbed "the fastest growing sport in the world".
And Singapore is the designated launchpad for which the American company, which has set up its Asian headquarters in the city-state, will seek to make inroads on this side of the globe.
The Singapore MMA community has been keenly anticipating a local fighter signing with the UFC for some time now, and Wee's anointment was warmly received by fellow mixed martial artists in Singapore.
"I'm happy for him, this is a dream he has been working for," said Impact stablemate Andy Neo. "I've never seen him this motivated before."
And Wee's example has in turn influenced Neo, 19, to strive for the heights of professional cage-fighting in the Octagon.
"I'm working hard as each day goes, because I want to follow coach Royston's path to the UFC," he enthused.
Over at hugely-popular local MMA academy Evolve, 17-year-old Benedict Ang called Wee's achievement as "opening doors for Singapore MMA fighters".
Ang, who previously spoke of wanting to make a career out of MMA, added: "Knowing their fellow countryman has done it will inspire upcoming fighters."
"Singapore having its very own first UFC fighter is a huge accomplishment for the nation, as well as the MMA scene in Singapore," said the member of Evolve MMA's amateur competition team. "It proves we have the capability to compete at the highest level in the world."
Of course, competing is one thing; to win is another. Wee has a golden chance to truly assert his "capability" on a global stage come January next year, and there is little doubt that he has the support of an entire nation.
"I'm happy to be doing my first fight in my home country, in front of my people, and I won't disappoint them," Wee promised.
Neo, too, was confident that his teacher has what it takes. "The UFC made the right choice signing him. They see his potential, they want him to represent Singapore and Southeast Asia."
"And he can do it."
Tickets for UFC Fight Night Singapore are on sale and priced at $688, $488, $288, $188 and $88 (booking fees not included). Tickets can be booked online at www.marinabaysands.com/ticketing and any Marina Bay Sands box office or SISTIC outlet. The event will showcase the following 10 fights:
Hyun Gyu Lim vs Tarec Saffiedine
Tatsuya Kawajiri vs Sean Soriano
Kiichi Kunimoto vs Luiz Jorge Dutra Jr
Shunichi Shimizu vs Kyung Ho Kang
Katsunori Kikuno vs Quinn Mulhern
Will Chope vs Max Holloway
Jon Delos Reyes vs Dustin Kimura
Tae Hyun Bang vs Mairbek Taisumov
Royston Wee vs Dave Galera
Leandro Issa vs Russell Doane
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