Several Singaporeans have been tried and tested by Asia's biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion but to date, none of them have gone on to enjoy sustained success. It is a trend Juan Wen Jie is hoping to buck at ONE FC: "Total Domination" and the 33 year-old lightweight appears to have the experience and skill set to do it.
Wen Jie is already 2-0 in his MMA career having beaten opponents from Iran and Malaysia under the banner of Ultimate Beatdown. He was initially set to make his ONE FC debut in March 2012, but had to pull out at the last minute after suffering a devastating kneck injury.
"I was extremely disappointed, I was desperate to get treatment of any kind before the event because opportunities like this are hard to come by. I was out for a year and I'm very competitive so I was pretty depressed."
He came back from the injury to win an MMA fight in March, his first competitive action in over a year, and will finally get the chance to fight at the Singapore Indoor Stadium for the first time on October 18th. Standing opposite Wen Jie when he makes his ONE FC debut will be Malaysian Alex Kim and he says he is expecting a striking battle.
"He is a fearsome striker and I expect to be hit pretty hard, it should be fun!"
Although Wen Jie did not taste competitive MMA action for the first time until January 2012, he has been training for much longer and was a Sanshou champion and Muay Thai champion in Singapore. His 2-0 record already marks him out as the leading lightweight in the country but he says he has much more experience than those two fights would suggest.
"I started formal MMA training seven or eight years ago. I have always wanted to be strong until the day I die and there's no better way to prove it than fighting in the cage, primal style!"
He is currently better known in Singapore due to his status as a successful model than his exploits in the martial arts world but that is a situation Wen Jie intends to change. The ONE FC lightweight division contains plenty of seasoned veterans like Shinya Aoki, Roger Huerta, Caros Fodor and Kamal Shalorus, but there are also up-and-coming local fighters including Eddie Ng, Peter Davis, Kim Hock and Leo Krishna that the latest addition to the roster is looking forward to testing himself against.
"Well, I don't really know how I match up with them, we will have to duke it out to find out! I will fight anytime, even under such a huge promotion as ONE FC and I hope to fight regularly now that my knee is better."
Ultimate Beatdown has been at the forefront of Malaysian MMA since 2011 but remains a relatively small scale promotion in the border town of Johor Bahru. A crowd in excess of 10,000 people is expected at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on October 18th but Wen Jie predicts he will have no problem coping with the completely different scale of the event.
"I'm feeling pretty excited, I've never fought in front of a large crowd before and I'm looking forward to displaying my craft. I I don't think it will feel that different from Ultimate Beatdown, it's just another fight, another day of fun!"
Wen Jie describes himself as being a "fluid, adaptable and decisive" fighter and despite having strong striking credentials, he is coming off a submission win and works every day with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt Alexandro Machado at Impact MMA in Singapore.
He says his favorite fighter is Cain Velasquez who he describes as "tough, hardworking and talented" but with the formation of ONE FC in 2011, Singaporeans such as Wen Jie have not had to look so far from home to find inspirational mixed martial artists.
Having one of the world's most prominent MMA organizations headquartered in Singapore has given the scene a massive boost and Wen Jie has witnessed firsthand how ONE FC has taken the sport form the periphery and established it firmly in the mainstream.
"MMA has exploded in Singapore because of ONE FC! Have you seen the crowd at the Indoor Stadium? At bars screening ONE FC fights? It's amazing!"
While fans continue to flock to the Singapore ONE FC shows in the thousands, a local hero has yet to emerge who can really capture the imagination of the crowd there by consistently winning fights. Wen Jie is hoping to fill this void and if he can claim the third consecutive win of his career on October 18th he will be in pole position to become the nation's first MMA title contender.