The growth of mixed martial arts in Asia has been well documented, but taking place in the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia is something of a phenomena.
From a dedicated and loyal fan base, all the way through to major corporate sponsorship, media coverage and a fast-growing fitness sector, the sport of MMA experiencing the type of growth not yet seen in other top MMA markets across Asia.
That growth will be on display this weekend, with two massive events set to take place at Stadium Putra in Kuala Lumpur, starting with ONE Championship’s Tigers of Asia and the third Grand Finale of Asia’s biggest amateur MMA tournament, Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA).
WE HAVE SPORT MINISTRIES GIVING OFFICIAL SUPPORT AND AMAZING PLATFORMS LIKE MIMMA ARE WHAT ENSUES.
“The MMA scene in Malaysia truly is fascinating and has amazing potential in Southeast Asia due to the fact that it is so strongly supported by local Malaysians,” says Darren Low, the reigning MIMMA heavyweight champion who will defend his title on Saturday night.
“We have sports ministries giving official support and amazing platforms like MIMMA are what ensues.”
Peter Davis, one of a growing number of home-grown stars who sits at the core of the sport, has found a wide fan base since fighting for ONE Championship.
“It’s always a pleasure to fight in front of the fans in Kuala Lumpur. This city energizes me, it strengthens me and makes me who I am,” he says.
Alongside this growth is a booming number of MMA gyms which have sprouted up all across the country, so fast that it is now too difficult keeping track of them.
Jason Lo, chief executive officer at TuneTalk and himself a huge fight fan, has been pivotal in the development of the sport locally through Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts, the tournament he founded in 2013.
“I would like to think that Tune Talk has been a cornerstone of this growth story along with gyms, other local franchises and personalities and media. Yes, things cost money and we put ours where our mouth-guard is.”
This year MIMMA added a women’s division to the tournament and Lo says Malaysian hero’s like Ann Osman has been a huge boost for the image of MMA.
“Ann Osman gracing The Wall Street Journal was a sign. Women love fitness. Men love women. That’s why they go to gyms and such.
“Women are literally hungry to get in the cage and that passion is driving even more interest in the fastest growing sport in the world.”
So where to from here?
Last year TuneTalk expanded its repertoire of MMA events and launched a tournament on a cruise ship called Mixed Martial A’RRR.
Without giving away all his secrets, Lo says 2016 will bring new elements to its MMA roster.
“That would be giving away some serious inside information and I need to buy time to think of something funky before I mention something like ‘Armed Forces’ or something foolish like that.”
For heavyweight Darren Low, the most important step in taking Malaysia’s standard of MMA to the next level is to invest in quality coaching.
“With the sport only several years old in Malaysia, it’s difficult to find locals that can match decades of experience from foreign coaches.
What looks certain is that Malaysia will continue to be a key part of surging Asia’s MMA industry.