Instead of blaring loud music and a red carpet, attendees at One Championship’s Inside The Matrix event last night were greeted by stanchions with red belts and a multitude of ushers wearing face shields outside the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Not that the uncharacteristically muted atmosphere outside the arena mattered to the 250 fans who were the first to get the opportunity to watch a live sports event in the Republic since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Financial adviser Ian Leo Tay, 33, told The Straits Times: “Being out here feels like we’re getting back a bit of our normal life.
“Even though it’s only 250 people, it’s a good start, and hopefully this one turns out well so in the future we can have bigger events with more people.”
The Inside The Matrix event with its limited crowd comes three weeks after One’s previous closed-door show, Reign of Dynasties, which was held at the same venue.
The events are part of a pilot project that the Government hopes will help identify a model that can be widely implemented so that more large-scale events can resume safely in Singapore.
Last night’s spectators were required to undergo an antigen rapid test at one of 10 designated clinics on the same day, and produce a valid negative test certificate before they were allowed into the venue.
The test returns results in under half an hour, compared with the gold-standard polymerase chain reaction test that takes a few hours to process. Both procedures are similar.
It was the first swab test Mr Tay had undergone, and while he admitted with a wry smile that it was “a bit uncomfortable”, he added that he did not feel inconvenienced by all the extra measures.
“The only thing extra was the test, really,” said the mixed martial arts (MMA) fan, who tries to attend all of One’s shows in Singapore. “The process, as a whole, was quite smooth sailing. The instructions were very clear so we knew what we had to do.”
In addition to the testing protocols, attendees accessed the Indoor Stadium through five separate entrances, with ushers and marshals ensuring safe distancing was adhered to throughout.
Inside, spectators were seated apart, with only about 10 per cent of the 10,000-capacity arena’s seats allocated for them.
Another spectator, 36-year-old engineer Nay Zar, also gave the thumbs up for the organisation of the event.
“Everything was very fast,” said the Myanmar national, who was at the event to support countryman Aung La N Sang, One’s middleweight and light heavyweight champion. “I have been to other events where there were problems, but not here. One Championship’s arrangement is very nice.”
Based in Singapore for the past 12 years, Mr Nay Zar works in the construction line and has been tested regularly – yesterday’s antigen rapid test was his 13th swab test – so he explained he had no issues being tested again.
“It’s expected for an event like this,” he added. “I think Singapore is ready for more opportunities of live events like this and I hope more come back soon.”
It was clear from the atmosphere inside the arena once the event started that the fans were hungry for live sports entertainment.
Enthusiastic applause and whoops of delight met the ring of the first bell for the opening bout between India’s Ritu Phogat and Cambodia’s Nou Srey Pov, and fans lapped up all the action throughout the three-hour card.
For Singapore’s Tiffany Teo, who lost her fight with China’s Xiong Jingnan for the women’s strawweight title, the fans at the venue were a welcome sight. She had fought inside an almost-empty arena at One’s closed-door event in February.
She said: “The energy was really different. It was not a full stadium but I could hear everyone loud and clear. In a usual event with a big crowd, the sound is muffled… It was a different experience.”
Inside The Matrix is One’s biggest event of the year and featured six fights, four of which were world title bouts.