Singapore’s first-ever UFC fighter Royston Wee almost quit MMA

Justin Ong
Fit to Post Sports
Wee during the UFC Singapore Open Workouts at Marina Bay Sand on New Year's Day. (Yahoo Photo / Cheryl Tay)

Mixed martial artist (MMA) Royston Wee is about to make history on Saturday as the first Singaporean fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

But just a year ago, he was on the verge of quitting MMA altogether.

“I wanted to stop and do other stuff,” Wee, 27, revealed to Yahoo Singapore last week. “Because I was studying, teaching (at Impact MMA gym) and training at the same time, there was no full commitment to training hard; no time to compete.”

“In this sport, no matter how hard you train, if there’s no fight, no competition, you won’t have the fire burning,” the 1.7m-tall fighter explained.

As fate would have it, Wee, a recent graduate in marketing and management from Murdoch University, hung on – and a few months later in July, the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself in the form of UFC reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter: China (TUF China).

One thing led to another and the next he knew, he was snapped up by the UFC for a bantamweight (61kg) bout with Filipino David Galera at Marina Bay Sands, in front of his Singapore home crowd.

Their battle will be part of what is a night of firsts for both the country and Southeast Asia, and Wee believes he is ready for the occasion.

“My preparations have never been this good,” he declared. “I’m in the best shape of my life – tip-top condition.”

Wee (left) and Galera square off at UFC Singapore media day on Thursday at MBS. (Yahoo Photo / Cheryl Tay)

Living a dream

Speaking with Wee, it feels like the easygoing, friendly lad has been spending his fighting life -- even if a relatively short one -- priming for this big break.

After all, he had told Yahoo in an earlier interview that it was always his “dream to get into TUF and eventually UFC”.

Way back in secondary school, Wee was already interested in learning how to fight, but only managed to find the time after he graduated from polytechnic and had a period of waiting time before enlisting in National Service (NS) in 2008.

He built his foundations at Fight G gym throughout two years in the military and upon completing his service, joined the Shenton House-located Impact MMA as a coach.

It was only after three years of training that Wee decided to have a crack at turning professional. He signed up for the Malaysian Fighting Championship in late 2011 and fought twice in the space of a month, winning both bouts by submission.

Wee in action during the UFC open workouts at MBS on New Year's Day. (Yahoo Photo / Cheryl Tay)

Turning point

Then came the lull in competition as he took on the additional commitment of studying for a degree.

The months flew past, and an increasingly unmotivated Wee veered dangerously close to leaving a sport that was rapidly blooming in stature and popularity around the globe.

That was until the big league of MMA finally landed in Singapore when UFC announced that TUF China was looking for Chinese-speaking Asian males and would hold auditions in the Lion City.

Out of six Singaporeans who went for the tryouts, watched by UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby and talent scout David Stern, only Wee made it as far as to be selected as a reserve.

He was flown out to the film set in Shenyang, China where he spent 22 days waiting – but not in vain, for it was here that the UFC offered him the option of either joining the TV show or fighting on the UFC card in Singapore in January 2014.

“We were quite impressed with Royston’s skills during the tryouts, even if he wasn’t on the first roster,” said UFC Asia managing director Mark Fischer. “It was when he was brought to Shenyang that we got to know him better, decided he has the goods and to give him a shot.”

“I was surprised when UFC wanted me to fight for them,” Wee admitted. “I guess it all comes down to the right moment, right timing and exposure.”

Wee (left) and Galera during UFC Singapore media day at MBS on Thursday. (Yahoo Photo / Cheryl Tay)

Everything to prove

Even though he can now call himself a “UFC fighter”, the Singaporean is not letting it get to his head.

“I don’t see myself different from any other fighters, be it UFC or outside of UFC,” said Wee. “Honestly, there’re a lot of good fighters not in the UFC, who can kick my ass too. I can (still) learn from (them).”

What about the unavoidable fact that he is the first from his nation to join the leading lights of the UFC?

“I know that on paper, it’s historic and everything, but I just take it as a fight,” Wee remarked. “I just want to prove to myself and not to anybody.”

“I fight for myself and I fight for the people who put in sweat and blood to train me,” he added, crediting his gym-mates at Impact as well as members of Juggernaut Fight Club who helped out with his preparations.

Fellow UFC debutant, American Will Chope, finished his training camp at Juggernaut in Singapore and gave Yahoo some insight into Wee’s personality.

“Super nice guy,” said Chope. “He’s the only Singaporean fighter fighting on a big show and (still) one of the most humble guys – he’s almost shy about it!”

Royston Wee attends the UFC Fight Night Singapore Ultimate Media Day at the Skating Rink at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sand on January 2, 2014 in Singapore. (Getty Images)

Cage instinct

Perhaps the magnitude of the occasion has yet to fully sink in for Wee, who will step into the octagon for up to three five-minute rounds watched by an expected sold-out crowd of 6,000 and billions more around the world via online streaming.

“Closer to the fight, it’s a different feeling. The air is different. Time seems slower,” he said.

But if there’s one thing Wee can fall back on, it’s his fighter’s instinct, which served him well in his debut against Malaysian Mohammad Irfan back in November 2011.

“My first fight, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how they run the show and I didn’t have time to prepare mentally or even do my warm-up,” he recalled. “I just went in to fight based on feel.”

There will be much less uncertainty on Saturday night, for a fighter whose world was turned upside down in the space of a year – now it is entirely up to Royston Wee to write the next chapter of his life.

Royston Wee poses for a portrait during a UFC photo session at the Marina Bay Sands Resort on January 1, 2014 in Singapore. (Photo by Mitch Viquez/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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