Does MMA Have A Swing In India?

Does MMA Have A Swing In India?

The sound of gloves smashing, drowned out by the electrifying screams of the crowd, MMA is one of the most well-known combat sport. Can it become a premier sport in India? Read on to find out.

Combat sports are not for the faint-hearted. When the fighters step into the Octagon, they are traditionally entering a life-or-death conflict. Entrapped within the space stand two glove-clad fighters, mercilessly trading blows with the sounds of the gloves hitting home on the opponent’s body, all drowned out by the electrifying screams of the crowd where a test of strength, character, and toughness ensues. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is one of the most well-known combat sport that combines world-class athletes, brutal combat, and engrossing entertainment like no other.

ESPN/UFC

While it has remained tough and full of heated rivalries in recent years, it has also shifted from focusing on pure competitiveness to an entertainment sport for the audience.

Roots of Mix Martial Arts

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It is believed that the origin of MMA goes back to the Greek army training and Roman Olympic games held in 643 BCE where it was a lauded sport of ancient Greece. But centuries later, the combat culture rose from Asian continents and was later reinstated in the West by combining multiple elements of MMA popularized by Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali in the 1970s. Keeping in mind this rise, in the 1980s, the United States regulated the first MMA league called the Tough Guy Contest (11/10 effort went into the naming).

Then, in 1993 UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) was founded by the Gracie family which brought Brazilian jiu-jitsu, developed in Brazil from the 1920s, to the United States. Since then the sport has gained a lot of momentum because of pay per view business where rivalries from different fighting backgrounds such as boxing and wrestling are put together in an octagon. Ever since then, the MMA culture have seem to spread across the world.

Is MMA on its way to become a premier sport in the country?

Despite it not being an Olympics event, it has been around for decades in the West and now has slowly seeped into India as well with platforms like the Super Fight League. SFL was founded in 2012 by actor Sanjay Dutt and British Indian businessman Raj Kundra. It was initiated with the vision to promulgate Indian Mixed Martial artists as well as to attract talent from other parts of the world. From the first event in March'12 to Mary Kom becoming the brand ambassador to having over 67 live televised events, SFL has successfully aided in capturing an enormous audience by the virtue of not just the celebrities involved but also, the vivid experience it offered.

More recently, smaller events have started to take place. A selection trial was held in Indore on September 12th, 2021 for the final championship that will take place in Kazakhstan this November 12th. Moreover, the Fourth MMA India Nationals also took place in Lucknow during the month of February.

Further proliferating the culture are Indian MMA fighters like Ritu Phogat, Gurdarshan Mangat, Asha Roka, Arjan Singh Bhullar, and many others. In fact, Arjan Singh Bhullar became the first Indian-origin fighter to win a world title in a top-level MMA event at the Singapore-based One Championship.

Ritu Phogat, on the other hand, decided to stop wrestling and turn her focus towards MMA. She made her MMA debut in November 2019 with Nam Hee Kin in the first round by TKO in South Korea. Later, she caught the attention of the Indian betting market that made her famous all around the world.

Coming to India, where cricket-worshipping is a real phenomenon, MMA as a sport lacks an enormous fan following and is still not a mainstream sport. As a result, entertainment giants such as UFC and Strike Force have not organised a major event in our country. This can obviously be attributed to the minimal audience awareness and equally low interest in the sport which majorly arises from the myth that the sport is nothing but pure violence.

Also, the opportunities to enter the sport are particularly scant due to improper attention and lack of funding from private organizations and investors. Khushnoor Jijina, an Indian coach who used to practice the sport further adds, "There aren’t enough places to train, sponsors to fund events, nor is there enough backing by the government to develop skilled trainers and fighters, and as a result there isn’t enough interest in the sport. This again leads to lack of sponsors and training facilities. This cycle needs to be broken."

(Twitter/OneChampionship)

Other than all of it, fighting is the most exciting, adrenaline-driven sport in the world and people that do get in the ring are seen as modern gladiators. But, when it comes to MMA in India, to make it a premier watching sport in the nation, the authorities will have to ensure that fighters are provided with better training facilities and event platforms to hone their skills. There needs to be adequate awareness even though experts say it can years for the art to be embraced sans its taboos.

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