Evolve MMA has been extremely successful because people in Singapore are prepared to pay handsomely for the privilege of learning from world champions in a state-of-the-art facility. It was only founded in 2008 but already has an enormous base of loyal customers as well as a fight team which is widely regarded as the best in Asia.
However while Singapore is one of the richest countries on earth, not everyone there is wealthy and for children from impoverished backgrounds access to a training center as sophisticated as Evolve MMA would be financially out of reach.
This presented a problem for Chatri Sityodtong, the Evolve MMA founder and owner, because he himself comes from a humble background, as do the majority of his fighters and trainers, and he wanted to give opportunities to children who found themselves in a similar situation.
When most people think of mixed martial arts (MMA) the image is of two muscular athletes doing battle inside the cage but many, including Chatri, believe that the sport has a power to change lives which goes far beyond actual fighting.
That's why at Evolve MMA young professionals will find themselves learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) or hitting a heavy bag alongside children from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds in Singapore. Ask Chatri what he is most proud of and he won't point at the accomplishments of DREAM Lightweight Champion Shinya Aoki or homegrown hero Radeem Rahman, but at a little known local program he started just over two years ago.
"Boys Town Home is Singapore's home for orphans, abandoned children, and underprivileged kids and we allow them to train under our world champions at Evolve MMA for free. It is open to any kids there who maintain a certain GPA which is a great way to encourage all of the kids to study hard and to behave well at Boys Town Home because they all want to train with our world champions."
Much has been made of the team of trainers at Evolve MMA which includes legends from the worlds of BJJ, boxing, Muay Thai and wrestling to the extent that one might assume the entire organization had been set up in order to fine tune the talents of elite level mixed martial artists.
According to Chatri, though creating world champions was not the only thing he had in mind when he first founded the facility in 2008.
"At Evolve MMA, our mission is to make this world a better place through the power of martial arts. Martial arts changes lives because it instills confidence, mental strength, discipline, courage, humility, tenacity, work ethic, and so much more. Most of us on the Evolve Fight Team and Evolve Instructor Team have overcome poverty and hardship through the power of martial arts and it is the circle of life in action for us to be able to serve as role models and hope for the future for the kids of Boys Town Home."
An extremely successful self-made multimillionaire with an MBA from Harvard, Chatri is well known as an entrepreneur in Singapore. It hasn't always been like this for the Evolve MMA owner though and that's one of the reasons he set up the Boys Home Town project.
"It is something very close to my heart because I know what it feels like to eat only one meal a day. At one point in my life, my parents lost everything and became homeless. Our family lived through some very tough times together and I remember my father selling fruits on the streets of Pattaya. I want Evolve MMA to be like another family to the kids of Boys Town Home. The most important thing is to give these children a sense of hope and a path from which to launch themselves out of poverty and hardship."
It is also a fact that historically the best fighters have tended to come from low income backgrounds. MMA is something of an exception to this rule because of the proliferation of college educated wrestlers in the US but Chatri (above) says that finding prospective fighters is far from his mind.
"Some of the boys now want to become professional fighters in the future but I don't encourage it, for me, it is more important that they inherit the values of martial arts such as a desire for continuous self-improvement, humility, respect, courage, work ethic and discipline. The lessons from martial arts will help them apply themselves in every area of life. I truly believe in martial arts as a platform to unleash human potential in all areas of life."
Among the Evolve MMA fighters and trainers to make a recent visit to the Boys Town Home was former Muay Thai World Champion Yoddecha Sityodtong. He has a remarkable life story because he was a homeless orphan who was ensnared into a gang and forced to work in conditions akin to slavery when he was just 7 years old.
He was fortunate to be rescued four years later by a Muay Thai fighter called Vichai Sityodtong and Yoddecha would go on to compete regularly at the famous Lumpini Stadium and become one of the most famous Thai fighters of his generation.
Surviving such a traumatic upbringing makes Yoddecha more qualified than most to tell the children at the Boys Town Home about the potential which martial arts has to make a positive impact on their lives.
"When Chatri approached me about joining him to give a speech at Boys Town Home I was happy because I know what it feels like to be an orphan and to live on the streets with no food, to have no one love me. When I see the kids at Boys Town Home, it reminds me of when I was a child. Chatri and I have known each other for around 25 years from our days at Sityodtong Camp together. So it is unbelievable that we are here now and that we can help these kids together."
As mixed martial arts continues to grow at an astounding rate in South East Asia it is refreshing to see that as well as a source of entertainment the sport can also be a force for good in far flung places such as Singapore.
Chatri would also like to add the following message,
"I would like to thank Richard Wee, one of our student leaders at Evolve MMA, for helping to bring Evolve MMA and Boys Town Home together. Without his invaluable support and leadership, this special program would have never happened."