Uncaged: A peek into the lives of Singapore's rising MMA stars

6 November 2015 / 11 months 3 weeks ago

Mixed martial arts (MMA) enthusiasts in Singapore will have no trouble recognising athletes Amir Khan, Benedict Ang and Angela Lee.

For the unfamiliar, the Singapore trio have made waves across the MMA scene for their fighting prowess at various fighting competitions.

The athletes, all part of the elite Evolve MMA Fight Team, will be putting their skills to the test once again on November 13 at One Championship's 'Pride of Lions' fighting extravaganza as they square off with opponents from various countries. 

In the run-up to their big fights at Asia's premier MMA promotion, the young fighters have been training under the close watch of MMA world champions at Evolve. Although Benedict, Angela and Amir will be facing more experienced fighters, they have all expressed that they are confident of beating their opponents.

Taking time out of their busy training schedules, the athletes shared with me interesting snippets of their careers as well as their lives outside the cage.

The Dragonball fan

Benedict Ang has been touted as one of the seven Asian teenage prospects to look out for this year.

His resounding victory over the more experienced Waqar Omar at ONE's 'Warriors Quest' event in May is testament to why he is so deserving of that label.

Despite his victories, the 19-year-old knows that hype does not automatically lead to success.

"For every fighter the next fight will be his hardest fight. I won my debut match in May against an experienced opponent. My next opponent will be a 10-fight veteran, but I am absolutely confident of beating him", said the teenager.

Currently pursuing a diploma in Sports Coaching at Republic Polytechnic, the featherweight shares the same amount of professionalism in the ring as he does juggling studies with his career. Despite his hectic training schedule, he has found ways to toggle between 'student' and fighter'.

"I think both education and sports are equally important. When it's nearer to the competitions my focus will be on MMA and during study week more to my school.

"During school days I will do my own runs or lift some weights, then after school I will come to Evolve to train for about two hours." 

MMA however has not always been a sport of choice for the promising fighter.

Before competing professionally as an athlete, Benedict was playing competitive football. It all changed during a fateful trip to Evolve.

Recounted the 19-year-old:

"One day I came to Evolve to do a trial class. After that I was training just for fun for three months. It was after I saw my mentor Eddie Ng fighting at ONE's 'War of Lions' that I decided I wanted to do this as well."

Although he has garnered more than 10,000 views on his 'Evolve student of the month' video, Benedict admitted he is hardly recognisable in school. Given his status as a rising star, that may just change very soon.

Fans of Benedict will know that he is a self-confessed Dragonball lover. He describes the series as 'the perfect anime' that teaches him a lot about life.

"For example Vegeta teaches you that it's ok to give up your pride and fight for the ones you love. I think it's just something I hold very close to my heart and I can relate to it quite well," he explained.  

It is hard picturing how such sentimental words can come out of someone with a demeanour as tough as Benedict's, but it just goes to show that MMA athletes are not the cold-blooded, fearsome people some think they are.

Benedict faces Indonesia's Yohan Legowo at ONE's 'Pride of Lions' on Nov 13.

Women's MMA is not a joke

Google 'female MMA Asia' and the first result you'll see is Singapore fighter Angela Lee. 

Despite being only 19, Angela has already taken the MMA world by storm. Other than earning the title of Hawaii Wrestling State champion, the Taekwondo black belt holder has also been crowned Pankration World Champion -- twice. 

Unlike fellow Evolve fighter Benedict, Angela was destined for MMA from a young age.

"I come from a family of martial artists. My parents were both involved in martial arts and I was practically born and raised in the gym. 

"First my dad wanted me to take martial arts for self-defence, but as I grew older it became something I took seriously," said Lee about her foray into MMA.

Her success in the sport however has not come without sacrifice. 

Earlier this year, she chose to give up a business administration degree course. Lee admitted that it was a challenge having to constantly travel to Singapore for fights and back to her university campus in Hawaii for studies. She decided to quit school to focus entirely on her career.

Other than her opponents in the cage, Angela faces another adversary outside the ring -- those who think women's MMA is a joke.

The strawweight hates it when people think that female fighters are just 'for show' and hopes to change that perception.

"It's a lot of effort for us behind the scenes during training as well as in fights. I train with the guys 24/7, we do the exact same things and we train just as hard. 

"I hope that one day people can see women's MMA as something as a sport that's very technical. We are not just trying to put a show on for people", quipped the teenager.

Like Angela, her family has also constantly been in the limelight for their fighting background. Little however is known about her boyfriend.

The 19-year-old shared snippets of her romantic life, but stopped short of revealing her boyfriend's identity:

"I've been together with my boyfriend for two years. He's not Singaporean; he's born and raised in Hawaii. He has martial arts background in wrestling, judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu."

Her boyfriend has not been able to accompany during her fights in Singapore, but will do so in the near future. 

Angela has been undefeated in all her ONE Championship fights so far and will be facing Australia's Natalie Gonzales Hills in her third match with the promotion.

Hell of a schedule

Amir Khan, or 'Golden boy' as he's also known, began his martial arts journey when he was five-years-old with Tae Kwon Do. These days, the athlete utilises a vast arsenal of martial arts to beat his opponents. 

For the 20-year-old national serviceman, the highlight of his career is winning three out of four of his ONE Championship matches.

Conditioning himself for fights is by no means easy.

Amir has been sticking to an extremely gruelling schedule since enlisting in the Singapore Civil Defence Force this year to ensure that he remains in top form whilst serving national service.

Said the young featherweight:

"I wake up at 6am every day to run. After that I report to camp, have my lunch, then go to the Evolve gym. After that I go back to camp, and on some nights back to the gym again after that."

Fans who watch enough of Amir's fights will notice that he occasionally has unusual facial movements.

He has tourette's syndrome, a condition whereby he will experience involuntary facial twitches.

However, not only does that not affect his training or fights, Amir has also admitted that it might even help distract his opponents.

The Singaporean athlete might boss his opponents around in the cage, but outside of it, it is his father that holds the fort. Amir's father has played an extremely crucial role in his MMA journey. 

"He (Amir's father) has invested his life into my career. He'll wake me up every day, cook breakfast, send me to camp and to gym then send me back again to camp. I am the Batman and he's the butler."

Unlike Bruce Wayne however, Evolve's 'Batman' prefers a cowboy's hat.

Amir frequently wears his trusty black hat when he poses for photos or after he beats his opponents.

Quipped 20-year-old about the significance of the unusual accessory:

"I spent a couple of years in Louisiana and became close to one of the coaches there. Before I left he gave me that hat and it's something special to me."

Looking forward, Amir hopes to win the ONE championship belt in future and will strive hard to reach that goal.

He will square off with fellow featherweight Jimmy Yabo from the Philippines at ONE's 'Pride of Lions'.  

Walking the talk

Following my interview with the athletes, I had a chance to understand how it feels to be locked in submission holds by professional MMA fighters. 

One by one Benedict, Angela and Amir took turns to perform some of their moves on me. 

Based on how they went, I must say I really pity their opponents who have been caught in similar positions. 

See their demonstrations in the video below. 


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