At the UFC Fight Night 34 weigh ins earlier this week at Marina Bay Sands, I bumped into Chatri Sityodtong, who is one of the pioneer's of mixed martial arts (MMA) in Singapore. He founded Evolve MMA well before any promotions were interested in the region and has seen the sport grow from obscurity to the point were Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) now has its Asian headquarters stationed there.
The multimillionaire and entrepreneur not only has a fighter on the UFC Fight Night 34 card, Leandro Issa, but is also sponsoring the event through his latest start-up, Evolve University, and took the time to answer a few of my questions about the growth of MMA in Singapore and the future of the sport.
Have a look.
When you first founded Evolve MMA. were there any other MMA gyms in Singapore?
When I founded Evolve MMA in 2008, there were a couple of MMA gyms in existence. The quality of instruction and training was quite low relative to the options today. To give you some perspective, there were probably only 50 practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with only 2-3 purple belts in the entire country. For MMA, it was even less. Muay Thai has always been quite popular here in Singapore, though.
Are you surprised by how quickly the sport has grown?
Yes, for sure, I am surprised. I started Evolve MMA simply because I love martial arts. I never could have imagined that Singapore would become the capital of MMA in Asia.
How significant is it to have the UFC in Singapore?
I am thrilled that UFC is here in Singapore now. It is great for the sport of MMA in Asia for UFC to throw events here. The truth is that everyone around the world owes a lot to Lorenzo and Dana for the rise and globalization of MMA.
Leandro Issa is making his UFC debut, how do you think he will fare in the 135-pound division?
As you know, we have elite UFC and ONE FC fighters who fly to train here at Evolve MMA all the time. I don't want to name any names, but it is no secret that Leandro has no issues in sparring or training. Of course, anything can happen in the fight game. On any given night, a fighter can win or lose. That being said, Leandro stacks up very well with the best bantamweights in the world from any organization in terms of his skills.
I believe Tarec Saffiedine has been training at Evolve, how's he looking?
Yes, Tarec trains here at Evolve MMA whenever he is in Singapore. Heath Sims, the head coach of the Evolve Fight Team, used to coach Tarec at Team Quest. So there is history and friendship there. Tarec is truly a rare talent. You cannot get a full appreciation for how good a fighter he is from TV alone. There is no substitute for training and sparring in a live environment to see how special someone is. If Tarec fights intelligently, he will beat Lim quite easily. Of course, Lim is a very dangerous opponent with big KO power. So anything can happen. However, in terms of technical skills and athletic ability, Tarec is head and shoulders above Lim.
Do you have any predictions for the main event?
I think Tarec will win by decision.
Evolve University is sponsoring this event, can you tell us a little bit about Evolve University?
Yes, one of my latest start-ups is a UFC sponsor. Evolve University is the world's largest online university for martial arts. All of our courses are taught by World Champions in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Wrestling, Mixed Martial Arts, Submission Grappling, and more. It is still early days for Evolve University, but it already has the largest library of world-class video tutorials on the planet. It only launched this year, but it has been in stealth mode for almost three years already.
When is Ben Askren likely to be arriving in Singapore and when can we expect to see him make his ONE FC debut?
Ben will be here at Evolve MMA very soon for training. I am blessed to have a friend like him on the Evolve Fight Team. He's one of the best welterweights in the world. Above all, he is genuinely a great human being. Ben is expected to make his ONE FC debut in April or May. He was offered a fight in March, but he had some prior wrestling commitments.