Sports Council chief welcomes UFC entry into Singapore

SSC CEO Lim Teck Yin (left) receives a pair of signed gloves from MMA fighter Jake Ellenberger. (Getty Images)SSC CEO Lim Teck Yin (left) receives a pair of signed gloves from MMA fighter Jake Ellenberger. (Getty Images)

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a sport, not a brutal bloodbath.

So said Singapore Sports Council chief Lim Teck Yin, throwing his weight behind the burgeoning sport as he spoke on the sidelines of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) press conference on Wednesday.

The premier MMA organisation makes its Singaporean and Southeast Asian debut on 4 January at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), in a ten-bout showcase headlined by American Jake Ellenberger and Belgian Tarec Saffiedine.

Japanese and South Korean brawlers have also been penciled in along with the promise of Southeast Asians on the fight card, announced Mark Fischer, managing director for UFC in Asia.

It is unlikely a Singaporean will feature in the event, but Fischer spoke of the UFC’s commitment to building up future local MMA heroes – an outlook Lim agreed with as he moved to praise the sport.

Pointing out that subscription rates for MMA gyms in Singapore were on the rise, Lim said: “It’s not that people who go there are fight-mongers. They recognize the training and discipline is exciting – anything as explosive as MMA is a great stress reliever.”

UFC Asia's managing director Mark Fischer (centre) watches MMA fighters Jake Ellenberger (left) and Tarec Saffiedine face off. (Getty Images)UFC Asia's managing director Mark Fischer (centre) watches MMA fighters Jake Ellenberger (left) and Tarec Saffiedine …

Not human cockfighting

The former army brigadier-general also waved away the perspective of MMA as violent and barbaric.

“It’s quite common that combat sports face this sort of criticism, but it exists for football, rugby, cheerleading too,” Lim told Yahoo Singapore. “There are elements of physical risk that any sport entails, and it’s a question of how we don’t miss the forest from the trees.”

He added: “UFC have been very responsible in looking at both medical and social risks, and they’ve tried to deal with those things through the rules they’ve established, corporate social responsibility and the promulgation of a set of values all their fighters subscribe to.”

These values include “sportsmanship, discipline, lifestyle, great physicality, great skill and fighters’ care for one another”, said the 50-year-old.

“I welcome sports bodies who come to Singapore and bring this level of professionalism to the scene.”

Lim’s glowing review of MMA stopped short at considering the sport for inclusion at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore.

“Not at the moment. There are already a significant proportion of combat sports in the portfolio, like wushu, silat, judo… the list goes on. We want to establish a good mix,” he said.

Dollars and cents

Would MMA’s growing popularity warrant the setup of a National Sports Association (NSA) someday?

“I would differentiate between sports that have NSAs, and businesses developed around sports,” Lim replied.

However, he expressed little concern over the UFC possibly having a larger impact on Singapore’s entertainment and tourism sectors rather than sports.

“We recognise today that sport as entertainment has an impact on participation. It’s through events that people come to understand MMA and want to join gyms,” said Lim.

“They don’t want to get in the ring, but they want to experience training and adopt it as part of their lifestyle. That’s a healthy development.”

What the UFC has done, observed Lim, is to “clearly communicate MMA as sport, package it in an entertaining way, and develop a good business around it.”

The turnout at the press conference for UFC's first fight in Singapore and Southeast Asia. (Getty Images)The turnout at the press conference for UFC's first fight in Singapore and Southeast Asia. (Getty Images)

The global giant joins an expanding list of elite sporting events already or soon-to-be held in Singapore, like the Women’s Tennis Association Championships and the Formula One Grand Prix.

“As we continue to grow capabilities in the sports industry ecosystem, more and more world class properties will see Singapore as a good hub to advance operations in the region by establishing offices here,” said Lim.

Yet, in recent times, the island-state has also seen its sanitised image marred with links to sport corruption, most notably in football match-fixing.

Fischer had argued, in an earlier interview with Yahoo Singapore, that “the UFC has an impeccable reputation” and also how “none of that (corruption) is going to get into our sport”.

When asked to comment on the UFC’s partnership with casino-owning MBS, Lim, on the other hand, was less resolute.

“If you talk about sport betting, UFC is not the first to get into it,” he chuckled. “Sport betting is evident in all sports.”

Tickets for UFC Fight Night Singapore: Ellenberger vs. Saffiedine go on sale 7 November at 10am, and are 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.

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