MMA: UFC 275 thrills sold-out crowd with quality fights, a retirement and a new champ
When the stars come, so do Singaporeans.
A rocking Singapore Indoor Stadium sold out for the first time since the pandemic on Sunday (June 12) morning, with about 11,000 packing the arena to watch the top warriors from mixed martial arts juggernaut Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) put on a show at UFC 275. And what a show it was.
Finishes in four of the five fights on the main card, a retirement from a future hall-of-famer, a narrow escape for one champion and the coronation of another.
The strong turnout reflected the star power of the UFC 275 card and its status as a pay-per-view (PPV) event - which features the UFC's top stars and title fights, and which are mostly held in the United States.
Then there are its Fight Night events, which are typically headlined by fighters who are in the top 10 of the UFC's weight class ranking. The UFC staged four fight night events in Singapore from 2014 to 2019, drawing just under 22,000 in total.
But UFC president Dana White said the company wanted to "come back with a bang" to Singapore and east Asia following the pandemic.
So it opted to switch to the PPV format for the Lion City, the first time such a UFC event has been held in South-east Asia. It lined up two title fights - the men's light heavyweight and women's flyweight - as well as a rematch of what many have dubbed the greatest women's MMA bout ever. The event lived up to its billing.
In the main event, 42-year-old Brazilian champion Glover Teixeira and Czech Jiri Prochazka, 13 years his junior, put on a fine light heavyweight bout, with the younger man finally prevailing in the last of five five-minute rounds with a rear naked choke submission with just 28 seconds left.
The new king of UFC's light heavyweight division said: "The choke that came... I just watched the moment, and what opportunities (there were) before me."
On claiming his title after being involved in an instant classic, he added: "It's amazing... Glover is a true warrior."
Teixeira, who was saluted arguably even more loudly by the Singapore crowd, said: "I gave my all, man... I'm going to keep going."
In the co-main event, Kyrgyzstani women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko endured a scare after a spirited showing by Brazilian challenger Taila Santos, retaining her title via split decision after five rounds.
A sizeable number from among the crowd felt the South American had done enough to score a huge upset, and made themselves heard by jeering the announcement of the decision.
Santos, 28, kept her head up though and said: "I'm still young... this is not the last time you guys will see me fight for the belt."
But it was the third-last fight - a women's strawweight bout between China's Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland - which got the fans out of their seats on multiple occasions.
The fans rose when the two former champions, who clashed in a classic fight in March 2020, made their walk to the Octagon, and shot to their feet again to deliver a standing ovation after an exhilarating first round.
Their enjoyment of the fight was cut abruptly when Zhang delivered a contender for knockout of the year - a spinning backfist - midway through the second round, as Jedrzejczyk went down onto the canvas swinging.
The Pole said later: "She surprised me with the backfist... The bell is still ringing in my head. But good one. I didn't expect Weili was going to be that tough, that good."
She had removed her gloves immediately after the fight, and later confirmed she would call time on her career.
While Jedrzejczyk, who won the title in 2015 and defended it five times, had hinted at this during the pre-event media day - she said 2023 would mark 20 years of her training and competing in MMA and had spoken of her desire to pursue other ambitions such as competing in motor racing's Dakar Rally - it still came as a surprise.
"It's been 20 years," she said. "I'm turning 35 this year (in August). I want to be a mom. I want to be a businesswoman.
"I've been training two decades, more than half my life. I appreciate you all. I love you guys."
Even the two fights that kicked off the main card had the crowd buzzing.
Powered by the pro-Australian crowd, Perth native Jake Della Maddalena beat Russian fighter Ramazan Emeev via technical knockout in the first round.
Della Maddalena was followed by compatriot Jake Matthews, who delivered a stunning second-round knockout of Portuguese up-and-comer Andre Fialho in their welterweight bout.
Fialho was highlighted by White as one of his ones to watch, given his battle-ready nature. His bout at UFC 275 was his fourth fight of the year, even though it ended in his first loss of since he debuted in the UFC in January.
UFC senior vice president Dave Shaw was thrilled by the quality of the fights that were put on. "Honestly we can't ever control what happens in the Octagon," he said. "It is a massive plus when you get a card like that deliver from the bottom to the top."