Singapore: City of Lions, rooftop swimming pools, chicken rice, deep fried Mars balls, caning, Singlish dialect lah, cultural diversity, and... MMA.  Far from China yet hauntingly Chinese and sandwiched between several nations deeply steeped in traditional forms of fighting, no other place on earth can be as befitting a home for a martial art called Mixed.

My voyage to this cultural catch-all-cum-country was predicated upon the chance to cover the region's fastest-growing MMA promotion ONE Fighting Championship which calls Singapore home base.  March 31st would only be their third event, and yet it was to feature intercontinental title holders, top ten ranked fighters, interdisciplinary world champions, some fresh new talent poised on the brink of acclaim, and even a women's bout.  All in a 7,000 seat plus venue.  Shockingly aggressive for a start up.

To hold such a large event must mean that there's a ready and willing fan base in place to support it.  And as it would be my first time to visit Singapore, I was determined to find that base and explore it.  This several-day experience yielded an incredible amount of mental fodder and therefore this article will be but the first of several in a series chronicling my forays.  It will focus on my touchdown in Singapore and the weigh ins for ONE FC 3.

Good morning, Singapore

Day one started off as night, actually.  My 8pm-something flight was delayed for two hours which meant I would arrive in Singapore well after midnight.  I enjoyed the time by people watching, listening to a mix of Singlish, Mandarin and Cantonese, and drinking Heinekin.  Then there was this guy with interesting shoes: leopard-spotted cow hair with pink piping and gold spikes.  The funny thing is that I had already encountered him outside 7-11 in Central earlier in the day.  There cannot be two people with those shoes in the same city.

My flight arrived in Singapore well after 2am.  I would have been happy just to see the words "Taxi Stand", but amazingly enough, Nadia Daeng, ONE FC's public relations manager, met me in person and accompanied me back to the hotel.  I think we made an art out of mumbling, however Nadia was still able give me the run down of the organization and the events scheduled for the weekend.  She was to become an integral part of my positive experience at the event.

After finally getting to sleep around 3:30am, I experienced a wake up call I wasn't quite expecting in the form of a family of eight checking out of the room across from me.  They were apparently bilingual and exclaiming in Tamil and Mandarin how really cool it was to be awake at 6am.  I was not amused and I hoped that no other fighters were on the same floor listening to this pre-breakfast mayhem.  When the hall was finally silent again, I was able to get another two hours in before pre-fight jitters turned my brain back on.  Then, breakfast buffet.  My first experience of Singapore food culture was awesome.  Breads from every country, a full vegetarian selection, dim sum, curries, omelettes, and bacon.  Real American-style crunchy bacon.  Singapore, please export this special culinary triumph to Hong Kong, I beg of you.

After the buffet, I took a stroll around the hotel neighborhood.  Even in the morning the smell of curries was strong.  Everything here is multicultural and while some places look like any ordinary city, the fusion of ethnicities creates a vibrant sensory experience from smells to sounds and streets capes.  On one block is a contemporary high-rise; on the next is a row of traditional Chinese houses, each painted a different color from its neighbor.  The foliage is lush and the temples are abundant.

Eventually I found a grocery store near the hotel and bought some adult beverages to stock the minibar.  Sandwiched between a full compliment of Ben n' Jerry's flavors and row of condiments I couldn't pronounce was a surprisingly large selection of organic foods.  Then, at the checkout, I spotted the infamous Men's Health magazine with Shinya Aoki on the cover!  MMA has indeed invaded the country.

Weigh ins

At weigh in time, foreign media was to meet ONE FC Coordinator Aaron Kobes in the lobby of the hotel to be accompanied to some place called the Chevron House.  Walking out of the lift and into the lobby was an experience that rivaled my DREAM New Year's Eve trip: the Japanese fighters Yoshiyuki Nakanishi and Crusher Kawajiri were standing right there with DEEP promoter Shigeru Saeki.  They all looked at me... I'm not sure who they expected I'd be?  So I took their picture.

Imanari was just behind them, by himself.  Whenever someone takes a picture of Imanari by himself, he stands still and looks at the camera as if he's getting a passport photo taken.  Kind of like during weigh in stare downs where he doesn't cock his fists, instead lets them hang at his sides - he doesn't need them anyway.  From China, Bill Eng was with his fighter Jiang Long Yun, wearing a suit.  Why a suit?  Because the 45-year old told his wife that he was going on a 'business trip'.  Then I saw Team Lakay's coach Mark Sangiao with ONE FC fighters Kevin Belingon and Eduard Folayang.

Following them was Mark Striegl newly of Team Muayfit, with Eric Kelly and Arnaud Lepont.  Meeting the world-famous Combat Lifestyle photographer Tracy Lee was another epic event in the lobby.  And finally Melvin Manhoef and Coach Mike strolled out.

Turns out the Chevron House is a high-rise located in Singapore's business district, so it was quite the place to stage a media event with lots of onlookers.  Everyone got off the bus and threaded through the crowds of shoppers to an open air pavilion overlooked by two stories of balconies.  It was already teeming with eager spectators, including some fighters quite happy not to be in the weight-cut group.

The pitiful looking group of men fresh from final weight cuts had to be carefully and quickly ushered into separate holding rooms before they got swamped with photo requests.  They were quiet, and very happy to be sitting down.

From what I could gather, about two hundred people crammed together to get a first look at the fighters and notables attending the event, including the officials, the announcers, the ring girls, and The Man Himself, Victor Cui.  Lenne Hardt was on hand for pictures with her fans.

On to the fighters!  The ONE FC theme started to play which presented the feel of some regal appearance.  By now the area was completely mobbed with onlookers and fight teams alike.  Photogs were jostling for the best vantage point.  People were lined along the balconies and climbing the halted escalators to catch a glimpse.  Each bout was announced and one at a time the fighters took the stage to step on the scale.  Matt Hume was doing the readings but the actual weights were not announced.  It got real.

Probably the face off I'd be least likely to get in the middle of would have to have been Yodsanan versus Yun.  3-K Battery probably has enough dynamite in one hand to punch straight through one head to hit another.

Happiest weight cutter of the day goes to Kim Hock.  This is one kid who certainly enjoys his job.  He smiled throughout the entire event.

The "where are we?" moment of the day goes to Imanari versus Belingon.  Imanari started with his usual passport photo pose and both had to be coaxed into putting up their dukes.

And then things got nasty.  Not with the fighters, but with the Singapore skies.  Rain started coming down in buckets, and although the area was covered, high winds were whipping it in sideways.  The crowd had to crunch together towards the stage and people were scrambling to find anything they could to cover their camera equipment.  Fitting for the moment, the craziest staredown goes to Monteiro versus Shirai.  They didn't even do anything exciting, they just both look crazy enough to make things interesting.

Most gut-wrenching weigh in pair goes to Ole Laursen and Eduard Folayang.  Eduard had been on a long and slow weight cut and arrived in Singapore looking drained.  Ole had just finished a battle with his toughest opponent: Seven Kilos.

Best face off goes to Kawajiri versus Sanchez.  Crusher was making scary faces right when he stepped off the scale.  When Sanchez tried a little brotherly love, Kawajiri's normally sleepy eyes burst wide open and he snarled back.  Apparently even ring girls like bad boys.

Finally, bromance of the night goes to Zoro versus Enomoto.  Jason Chambers spoke with both fighters and couldn't elicit smack talk from either of them.

And here's proof that I can take good pictures when it truly matters.

Ahhhh, bananas never tasted soooo goooood.

More weigh in pictures can be found at Tracy Lee's site, as well as her photo journal of Singapore - great stuff.

On the way back to the hotel, I was fortunate to ride the bus with Kawajiri's crew and chat with him a little bit.  That is the second best part about MMA - getting to know the fighters.  Kawajiri is completely approachable and much friendlier than he looks (or acts in the ring).  He was very enthusiastic about his trip to Singapore and getting the chance to fight in ONE FC.  In fact, the more he spoke, the more his enthusiasm rubbed off on me.  And then there's the common bond we share which is love for MMA.  This brings lots of us crazy people together.

More crazy people got together later in the night for an impromptu dinner.  Originally we were slated to have a foreign media dinner, but most of us felt it wasn't necessary.  Then came a call from ONE FC miracle worker Nadia at 10pm and we decided food might be a good idea given the impending marathon.  Anton Tabuena, Zike Sugawara and I met James Goyder and Nadia in the lobby, to be joined by the URCC's Franz Von Muhlfeld and the FCC's Prashant Kumar.  We strolled outside into the neighborhood behind the hotel that had come alive with foot traffic and dozens of lively restaurants.

A good Indian meal, some new friends, and a couple of pints (for me) - a fantastic way to end my first day in Singapore.  Time for sleep and ready for ONE FC 3: War of the Lions, and then a couple of days visiting the local MMA gyms like Evolve MMA and Juggernaut Fight Club.  So far, Singapore has treated me well.

Coming soon: ONE FC 3 - Part 2: Fight Day!

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