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Mixed Martial Arts — The Next Big Thing In Contact Sports in India?

Arjan Bhullar has become the first Indian to make a successful debut with UFC a while back and has paved the way for other Indian fighters to take the sport by storm. The likes of The Great Khali and Kavita Devi have already done that at WWE.

Yash Bhati | CNN-News18

Updated:November 3, 2017, 4:58 PM IST
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Mixed Martial Arts — The Next Big Thing In Contact Sports in India?
Arjan Bhullar in action in UFC (Courtesy: UFC)
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What is the one thing that Indians love more than cinema, cricket and religion? A good fight. Crowds gather around to see people fighting on the streets or on the screens. Despite this – the fandom of professional fighting also known as combat sports has eluded India. In a country where cricket is holy, other sports have barely managed to stay away from obscurity.

Indian Super League has shown that there is still space for other sports to capture the imagination of the Indian people – Successful attempts have also been made via Pro Kabaddi League – and money has been pumped into Basketball, Badminton even Wrestling. In my opinion – a sport that displays the thrill of a fight, unpredictability, amazing athleticism and a wide range of fighting styles – is Mixed Martial Arts.

Mixed Martial Arts or MMA, as it is popularly called, is steadily gaining a niche market with the advent of the Super Fight League (SFL) and the popularity of US-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the largest MMA promotion company in the world. It is a full-contact combat sport that allows both striking and grappling, using martial art techniques like Muay Thai, karate, kick-boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taekwondo, judo among others.

For a cricket-crazy country like India, MMA might be new but it is gaining steam with various academies and MMA clubs popping up all over the country like Crosstrain Fight Club and Evolution Combat Sports Academy. Many youngsters have traded kicking a football or the heave of a cricket bat with spin kicks and punches. Although mixed martial arts is primarily considered a male dominated sport, there has been a rise of female players due to popular fighters like Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate.

In India, the Super Fight League features eight teams representing different states. SFL’s CEO and founder Bill Dosanjh has big hopes for MMA becoming the next big phenomena, “MMA is one of the most commercialized sports in the world, along with Boxing, so the silver lining is not too far in India,” he says.

SFL has the infrastructure, but needs a superstar to take the sport by storm and elevate it to a pan India audience. Pro-Boxing needed Vijender Singh, Badminton needed Saina Nehwal to win an Olympic medal to thrust the sport back into the limelight, and football needed the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri to create the euphoria. Even in China, Basketball needed Yao Ming to make inroads into the Chinese market. Similarly, MMA also needs someone to step up to the plate and take the sport to new heights.

Arjan Bhullar has become the first Indian to make a successful debut with UFC a while back and has paved the way for other Indian fighters to take the sport by storm. The likes of The Great Khali and Kavita Devi have already done that at WWE.

MMA training can be grueling, and India has no dearth of talent. Wrestlers of Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt’s calibre have the capability to thrive in the sport if they choose to. In fact, current UFC Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier was an Olympic wrestler before he switched to MMA. India too has top level professional fighters like Mohammed Farhad Sayed and Bharat Khandare, who have all the tools to compete with the best. They just need backing and a global platform.

MMA is a booming sport and definitely has a bright future in India. Even MMA giant UFC had a humble beginning from a small business venture, and is now a $ 4 billion global phenomenon. With proper promotion and planning, who knows, maybe the next Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey will arrive from India.

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| Edited by: Arnab Sen
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