May 12, 2010 / 3:12 AM / 9 years ago

Maiden mixed martial arts event set to rattle Singapore

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Tickets for concerts by crooner Tom Jones and band Tears for Fears were hot sellers in Singapore recently, but for cage fighter Mitch Chilson, “Martial Combat” is the only show in town.

Asia’s biggest, and also the city-state’s first, mixed martial arts (MMA) event kicks off on Wednesday with five fights at the S$6.59 billion ($4.76 billion) Resorts World Sentosa integrated resort. The two-day card features 10 bouts in total.

Branded human cockfighting and unbound bloodlust by its critics, MMA is one of the world’s fastest growing sports which combines fighting styles ranging from boxing, muay thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling.

Chilson, who fights out of Singapore’s Evolve MMA Academy, takes on Taiwan’s Zhang Jing Xong in Thursday’s main event. Also on the card are fighters from Brazil, South Korea, China and the United States.

“People are going to see the ultimate martial arts competition,” muay thai specialist Chilson told Reuters after checking out the Martial Combat cage.

“It’s a rare opportunity to have this many accomplished fighters in one area from around the region.

“This is the show to see.”

Adam Zecha, ESPN STAR Sports executive vice president and head of sales, South East Asia, has high hopes for the fledgling fighting championships and said there was an appetite for professional MMA action throughout Asia.

“This is a very fast growing sport in the United States and in Asia,” he told Reuters.

“You have a wonderful venue here, Resorts World really know how to attract the crowds, and when you couple that with our broadcasting strengths I think this is a terrific partnership to get into the sport and start to build it.”

The sports broadcaster plans to air the event to over 300 million people in 24 countries around the region for the next three years and with rights fees skyrocketing for other sports, Zecha said the early investment could have a massive pay off.

“Programing acquisitions and content like the EPL (English Premier League football) have gone through incredibly high rights fee rises,” Zecha said.

“Martial Combat offers us an opportunity to get involved in something at the ground level and build it and create it so we can own it, so we’re not having to pay someone overseas to acquire it.”

MMA has fought hard to gain credibility, regulatory backing and global appeal by introducing a comprehensive list of rules, stringent doping procedures and embarking on a educational campaign to win hearts and minds.

Now sanctioned in more than 40 U.S. states, the sport is experiencing explosive growth in viewership and participation and its top athletes are winning mainstream recognition, hefty salaries and lucrative sponsorship deals.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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