The extraordinary growth of MMA in the region has been well documented, but nowhere has the sport enjoyed such a dramatic surge in popularity as Malaysia where new gyms and promotions are popping up almost every month.
It is impossible to overstate the impact which ONE FC’s decision to start promoting shows in Kuala Lumpur has had on the development MMA in the country but, at a grass roots level, the man who is doing the most to drive this expansion is a rock star turned CEO, turned combat sports promoter called Jason Lo.
Lo is the man behind Malaysian Invasion MMA (MIMMA), an amateur tournament which holds tryouts all over the country and recently concluded its third season with a sold out event featuring 11 fights at the 10,000 capacity Stadium Negara.
In the past Tune Talk has thrown its weight behind sporting projects including a football themed reality TV show but Lo felt that the time was right for Malaysia’s leading telecommunications company to get into the MMA business.
“We felt it was time to get behind it. We wanted to adopt a sport we could truly associate with and we felt that MMA was for us because it’s full of discipline, dedication, dreaming big and talking trash plus it’s the best sport in the world to be watched in a mall.”
Tune Talk initially hitched itself onto the MMA bandwagon as a major sponsor of ONE FC and the logo can be seen on the cage every time the promotion puts on an event in Kuala Lumpur, but Lo wasn’t just content to partner up with the biggest existing player in the region, he wanted to build the sport from the bottom up in Malaysia.
“Our business is not aligned to the growth of MMA in Malaysia, but it has certainly helped us define what we are about. At Tune Talk we are fighters, we care a great deal about where we put our money and would rather build things than buy them.”
MIMMA’s final event of the year took place in October with the winners from the first season facing off with the winners from season 2 and according to Lo the event attracted online viewers from all over the world.
“MIMMA2 garnered 350,000 live views for the grand finals, now at 750,000 and adding video on demand for that one episode it’s over 80 million. There was exposure via social media to around 160 countries and it really turned the engine on in Malaysia where we now have several new local tournaments.”
Ultimately the aim for Lo is to produce a homegrown Malaysian MMA champion and he has high hopes for the current crop of MIMMA champions as well as one existing ONE FC star.
OUR BUSINESS IS NOT ALIGNED TO THE GROWTH OF MMA IN MALAYSIA, BUT IT HAS CERTAINLY HELPED US DEFINE WHAT WE ARE ABOUT.
“Our MIMMA heavyweight champion Darren Low, just got his BJJ purple belt, what an inspiration he is to Sabahans and at 170 lbs Agilan Thani is a prospect who could pro while Keanu Subba is a pedigree fighter and ONE FC must surely be looking at a title shot for Ann Osman at some point”
Osman’s success inside the ONE FC cage has helped to break down barriers which might have previously prevented women from attempting to even train, let alone compete in MMA, and the flyweight has made headlines all over the world.
MIMMA featured a female fight as part of its Season 2 Finale and according to Lo this is just one area in which his promotion will be looking to expand in the coming months.
“Gyms are opening their doors to more groups and as their women’s fighter stable grows. Hence our intention to open a women’s category, as well as a ‘foreign pride’ category within a certain weight band for those working, studying and based in Malaysia.”
Anyone who attended the finals of both the first and second MIMMA seasons would have noticed a significant improvement in terms of the quality of the fights and Lo feels that the frequency with which the athletes compete helps them become accustomed to a professional style training schedule.
“The standard was far better in the second season. It was our intention to have prolonged training regimes which hone and tone fighters for MMA and we’re happy to see the police force involved in MMA now because they have their own MIMMA champion. Generally across the board more involvement in the sport is giving fighters a broader skills set.”
The MIMMA Season 2 Finale featured an eagerly anticipated bantamweight match up between Filipino-American star Mark Striegl and New Zealander Kai Kara-France, with Striegl registering a first round submission.
Striegl subsequently signed a long term deal with ONE FC and Lo was delighted to see a fighter use MIMMA as a springboard to secure a deal with the biggest promotion in the region.
“Most definitely. It’s a shame if people don’t use the platforms to gain further altitude because it’s what I personally live for, to build assets which can help people leapfrog towards achieving their goals and Mark was certainly exciting to watch.”
There is no questioning the popularity of sport in Malaysia and fans will be glued to their television sets when the national football team takes on Vietnam in the finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup later this month but there aren’t many homegrown athletes enjoying success on the global Badminton is one example of a sport where Malaysians are capable of holding their own against the best in the world and Lo believes fervently that local fighters could go on to have a similar impact in MMA.
“It is my belief that we can achieve that. Already, Ann Osman is a major prospect and there are others who could prove themselves in 2015.”
Plans for MIMMA Season 3 are already afoot and an announcement can be expected in the coming weeks but before that gets underway Lo reveals exclusively to Rough that he has something a little more unconventional in mind for early 2015.
“Before we kickstart MIMMA3 we will be bringing MMA to a whole new level with something called the ‘Mixed Martial A’RRRR!: Terror on the High Seas’. We do hope you’ll join us! Expect it in March 2015!”
While Lo wouldn’t expand on exactly what this entails it’s safe to assume that the next set of MIMMA fights won’t be taking place on terra firma. It could be a metaphor for everything his promotion stands for, while others fear to stray from the safety of dry land this entrepreneurial rock star is taking the sport to places it has never been before.