With ONE FC headquartered in Singapore and the UFC setting up its Asian base of operations there, the rush is on to find the first bona fide MMA superstar from the Lion City. The likes of Radeem Rahman, Juan Wen Jie and Royston Wee are all undefeated, but there is a question over whether the country's current crop of fighters will ever reach the upper echelon of the sport.
With thousands of fans flocking to see MMA events, the interest in the sport is immense and there is a tremendous desire to see a Singaporean fighter succeed. Wee won his UFC debut earlier this year but with only three fights under his belt, will have his work cut out rising through the 135-pound ranks while Rahman has had injury problems and Wen Jie competes only occasionally.
Singaporean amateur boxing champion Syafiq Samed is also coming off a devastating first round defeat but it is easy to forget that MMA is still in its infancy in Singapore. Four years ago the sport barely existed and so the younger generation have access to training and techniques that would not have been available to their predecessors.
At the forefront of this new generation of Singaporean mixed martial artists is teenager Benedict Ang, who recently became the youngest ever member of the Evolve MMA Fight Team. The 17 year old has a 3-0 amateur record and will be training every day alongside the likes of Shinya Aoki, Ben Askren, Rafael Dos Anjos, Bruno Pucci and Eddie Ng.
In fact it was after watching Ng defeat Jian Kai Chee at ONE FC: "War of Lions" at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in early 2012 that Ang decided to dedicate himself to studying MMA.
"I was inspired by Eddie’s performance. It gave me hope and the inspiration I needed to change my life," he said.
Martial arts had already had a positive influence on Ang in the aftermath of a tragedy which left his life in turmoil. The unexpected death of his mother sent him on a destructive downward spiral, his schooling suffered and he began to get into fights until a chance discovery of an online video about ONE FC's first Singaporean fighter, Radeem Rahman, inspired him to check out Evolve MMA,
"I was filled with anger and frustration when my mother passed. I lost motivation, and I started lashing out at those around me. It was a really hard time in my life, and I didn’t know how I was going to get through it but through martial arts at Evolve MMA I have changed my life. I am performing better in school and I haven’t been in a single fight since I started training MMA," he said.
Ang made his amateur debut at Ultimate Satria Championships last May and submitted a Malaysian opponent with professional experience early in the opening round. He went on to claim two further decision wins, for the same promotion in June and at Ultimate Beatdown 13 in November.
Once he celebrates his 18th birthday in April, Ang will be eligible to sign with ONE FC and his coaches are hoping that he will follow in the footsteps of his friend and mentor Ng by eventually fighting for Asia's biggest MMA promotion.
Evolve MMA head coach Heath Sims has high hopes for the teenager who will has been awarded a lifetime scholarship, meaning that he can train at the state of the art facility in Singapore any time he wants.
"Benedict earned his spot on the Evolve Fight Team through his incredible work ethic and dedication. It has been a pleasure to coach him and watch him grow as a martial artist over the past couple of years. He improves every day in training and the results have shown when he competes. I am really excited to have Benedict as a member of the Evolve Fight Team. He is a very talented young kid, and I believe he will prove himself to be one of the best fighters to come out of Singapore," he said.
Ang, who holds a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is currently studying for a diploma in Digital Forensics but is hoping he has what it takes to become a successful mixed martial artist.
"Martial arts have been my savior. Evolve MMA is like my extended family and Chatri Sityodtong, Heath Sims, Eddie Ng, and all of the other instructors have inspired me to reach my potential and become a better person. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, it's my dream to compete professional and I cannot wait to make my mark in the cage," he said.