Singapore MMA fighters shoot for global stardom

Singapore MMA fighter Royston Wee is gunning for The Ultimate Fighter China tryouts on 25 July at Marina Bay Sands. (Photo: Royston Wee)Singapore MMA fighter Royston Wee is gunning for The Ultimate Fighter China tryouts on 25 July at Marina Bay Sands. …

Singers aim for American Idol; chefs strive towards Hell’s Kitchen and Mixed Martial Artists (MMA) dream of being The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).

The longest-running sports reality TV show ever offers contestants the chance of a contract with the world’s premier MMA organisation, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

And Singaporeans now have a crack at this Holy Grail of budding octagon fighters – via a Chinese-language version of TUF, set to hit small screens in November this year.

Tryouts for the 12-part series take place on 25 July at Marina Bay Sands.

The finalised cast of fighters commence filming in September for the first TUF to be held outside America. They will live and train together in China while tussling for the prize of a six-figure deal with the UFC.

Calling TUF China “an incredible opportunity for the aspiring MMA fighter who is Chinese”, Mark Fischer, the managing director of UFC Asia, pointed out that the show has never been a case of winner takes all.

“The runner-ups, if they are good enough… will be offered contracts,” said Fischer. “Even the guys who don’t get a contract… will become stars because they are going to be on a show that’s going to be broadcast to millions all over China… and Southeast Asia.”

‘A good chance’

Over phone from China, Fischer briefly revealed further criteria for wannabe competitors: “Personality helps. We’re looking for interesting characters.”

While he confirmed TUF China was tailored to “discover and develop the next Chinese UFC fighter”, Fischer acknowledged the large pool of non-Chinese fighters in Asia.

“This is the first of several TUF shows,” he promised. “One of these, in future, should be focused more on the Southeast Asian market.”

China's only UFC fighter Zhang Tiequan makes weight during the UFC Macau weigh in at Cotai Arena on November 9, 2012 in Macau, Macau. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)China's only UFC fighter Zhang Tiequan makes weight during the UFC Macau weigh in at Cotai Arena on November 9, …

The UFC exec waved away suggestions that Asian MMA company ONE Fighting Championship had already snapped up the cream of the local and regional crop.

Six Singaporean fighters have featured for the Republic-based outfit since its debut event here in 2011.

“Eventually, there’s plenty to go around,” insisted Fischer. He could not name any local fighters, but spoke of UFC officials being “close to contacts and the scene”.

He added: “We keep global tabs… I do think there are a couple of Singaporeans who stand a good chance of getting onto the show.”

Whatever it takes

Gunning to be among these “couple of Singaporeans” are Royston Wee and Andy Neo, who both hail from local gym Impact MMA.

“There are a lot of talented individuals (in Singapore),” said Wee, who believes the tryouts will also attract fighters from neighbouring countries. ”I expect tough competition.”

Royston Wee, coach and fighter at Singapore's Impact MMA, dreams of competing in the UFC someday. (Photo: Royston …

The 26-year-old and Neo, 19, agreed that TUF China would be centred on giving audiences something to watch.

“I want to be on TV doing the things I like and entertaining people,” said 1.8m-tall Neo. He has never been in a professional MMA bout before.

On the other hand, having fought and won twice – each time in less than two minutes – Wee, who also coaches at Impact, is bullish about his chances.

“It's always been my dream to get into TUF and eventually UFC,” shared the 1.7m striking specialist. “This hunger will help me get on the show.”

Regardless of how it shapes up for him, Wee is already excited for local MMA, what with TUF China and the slew of UFC fights to be held Singapore next year.

“With such events over the next few years… the scene will grow tremendously,” he said. “People will be more educated on MMA – definitely looking forward to it!”

The registration process for The Ultimate Fighter China is available here. Eligible candidates must be male and aged 18 to 34 with professional MMA experience. They are also required to speak Mandarin and be of Chinese descent. More details at

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