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Saturday December 22, 2012

Fighting comeback

Go for gold: The ONE Fighting Championship belt
which will be up for grabs in the match between
two Filipino fighters, Honorio ‘The Rock’ Banario
and Eric ‘The Natural’ Kelly, on Feb 2 next year at
Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil. Go for gold: The ONE Fighting Championship belt which will be up for grabs in the match between two Filipino fighters, Honorio ‘The Rock’ Banario and Eric ‘The Natural’ Kelly, on Feb 2 next year at Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil.

Mixed martial arts promotion ONE Fighting Championship will be holding its second event in Kuala Lumpur next year.

A school teacher, a male model, two very good friends. These are just some of the fighters on the cards for mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion ONE Fighting Championship’s return to Kuala Lumpur on Feb 2 next year.

After several successful ONE FC events in Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur (in June this year at Stadium Negara), one can safely assume that this next event, dubbed Return of Warriors, will be as interesting as the soccer kick controversy in Manila, the stunning KO by 19-year-old Hawaiian-Malaysian Gianni Subba on a Singaporean almost twice his age, and the inspiring victory of yet another Malaysian, Adam Khayoom, over a member of the Gracie royal family.

ONE FC this time will be held at Stadium Putra in Bukit Jalil which – with 13,000 seats – easily doubles the capacity of Stadium Negara. Return of Warriors will also feature several home-bred fighters such as Melvin Yeoh, Raymond Tiew, AJ Mansor, Saiful “The Vampire” Merican and Jian Kai Chee, as well as the return of Subba.

Model and actor Peter Davis, a familiar face and a local crowd favourite, last seen kicking and breaking the jaw of Singaporean Quek Kim Hock at Stadium Negara, will also return to square off against Indonesian Leo Krishna.

But probably the biggest point of interest is 31-year-old Melvin “Overkill” Yeoh, known as the most successful MMA fighter in Malaysia with a professional record of 6-1. By day, Yeoh is a secondary school teacher in Johor Baru, Johor. After hours, he trains troubled teenagers to take their aggression into the ring instead of to the streets.

Yeoh is one of the pioneers of MMA in Malaysia. He started teaching some of his students some MMA moves at the park near his house in 2004. In 2006, using his savings, he opened Ultimate MMA Academy in a rented shoplot when it became apparent that more and more teenagers as well as people in his neighbourhood wanted to learn MMA.

He also had to live in the gym with his wife and newborn baby. Two years ago, he managed to secure sponsorship for a bigger gym, and has since successfully trained fighters who compete in tournaments.

One famous story is that he was robbed by a teenager in a shopping mall, but managed to convince the teenager to learn MMA at his gym. Today, that teenager has turned over a new leaf and is also competing in tournaments, Yeoh proudly revealed.

“I teach at a secondary school,” said Yeoh at the ONE FC press conference in KL recently. “Most students at that age face changes in their lives, so they sometimes have problems with their families and teachers. Many of them get into fights on the streets or in school. I try to take these students to my gym and teach them MMA and help them change their focus from streetfighting to become better and more disciplined persons.”

Yeoh said the whole point of him fighting in ONE FC is not for fame or money, but to inspire more teenagers to take the right path in life.

“I just want to show them that they can do something big, something different,” he said. “They don’t have to be a bad boy or a top student. As long as they persevere in whatever they are good at, they can succeed.”

At the press conference, ONE FC’s CEO Victor Cui unveiled the promotion’s new partnership with Tune Talk, which will be ONE FC’s official telco. Cui also revealed that the Malaysian National Championship will feature four fighters – AJ Mansor, Tiew, Yeoh and Jian – in a featherweight tournament. The winners will face off in the next ONE FC event in KL for the national champion crown.

This is an important step in the growth of MMA in Malaysia which lacks a proper avenue for local fighters to progress professionally. The Philippines, for example, has a promotion such as the Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC), where the best of the best in the country compete.

“(In Malaysia), you need to have a sort of developmental tool,” said Cui. “A fighter is no different than (an athlete) in any other sport. You can’t jump from being an amateur straight to the top. You have to gain confidence and cage experience. So this is an opportunity to do that. (And) it fulfils our commitment to supporting the local community and grooming a national champion.”

Melvin Yeoh is
one of the
pioneers of mixed
martial arts in
Malaysia. He is set
to face fellow
Malaysian
Raymond Tiew in
ONE Fighting
Championship’s
Malaysian
National
Champion
tournament. Melvin Yeoh is one of the pioneers of mixed martial arts in Malaysia. He is set to face fellow Malaysian Raymond Tiew in ONE Fighting Championship’s Malaysian National Champion tournament.

Cui also announced the featherweight title bout that will take place between Filipino fighters and good pals, Honorio Banario and Eric Kelly.

Kelly, arguably the best fighter in the Philippines right now, is based in Kuala Lumpur, and has just come off an epic fight with Brad Terrey of Phuket Top Team at the URCC annniversary event last month that saw Kelly end up with a bulging, closed right eye.

ONE FC was supposed to return to KL this month, but Stadium Putra is still under renovation and some of ONE FC’s fighters had other commitments.

“The challenge with Stadium Putra is making sure that we finish the event on time because the LRT service ends at 11pm,” said Cui. “So we’re probably going to look at an earlier start, probably at 7pm.”

Cui also said ONE FC and Tune Talk are partnering to launch the movie Here Comes The Boom here to lure new fans to the sport of MMA.

Here Comes The Boom stars Kevin James as a biology teacher who wants to become an MMA fighter to raise funds for his school. The movie opens on Dec 25.

“It’s like a light-hearted comedy introduction to MMA,” said Cui. “You have a top Hollywood actor in a comedy environment, and you have MMA, that’s really going to introduce more people to (the sport).”

Tickets for ONE FC: Return of Warriors are already on sale. Go to www.airasiaredtix.com for more details.

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