PUNE Sharif Bapu is the current President of MMA India. He holds a 7th degree black belt in Karate and 5th degree black belt in kick-boxing he is one of the referees at the World Championships in Bahrain on November 7.

How many Indian fighters will make their MMA International debut at the World Championships?

Balakrishna Patange participated in the Asian and World Championships last year. Unfortunately, he could not bag any honours. Mahboob Khan shocked the world as he became the first fighter from India to win a gold medal in the World Junior Championships last year. Apart from Patange and Khan, this will be the first World Championship experience for all the remaining fighters.

Scope of MMA as a sport in India?

I have been in the MMA field for the last 42 years. I liked traditional sports like Karate and Taekwondo. When the Super Fight League (SFL) started in 2012, I did not like MMA and wondered why it was coming up as a sport. Sorry to use the term, but I used to feel it was a jungli (wild) game. My opinion changed in 2014, when I realised MMA was the best form of self-defence. The term itself says “Mixed Martial Arts”. It is a mixture of everything. You can box, punch, throw, grapple, you can do anything. Personally, I feel that in today’s world, every individual should know mixed martial arts, because it is the best skill for self-defence in the modern world. The scope of MMA has grown leaps and bounds. Recently, we had the Mayor’s Championship in Mumbai, after getting it legally introduced in the BMC. The world of MMA is changing and the youth is intrigued and curious about this sport. Earlier this year, we saw Rome host the first Youth MMA World Championship in which 269 fighters, aged 12 to 17, participated. MMA is no longer a sport for individuals who are above the age of 18. Now MMA is also for kids and we need to bring that culture here as well.

UFC in India? Other promotions for MMA?

Earlier this month, I met the founder and director of UFC Gyms in India – Istayak Ansari. The UFC gyms are coming to India. One of these gyms is up and running in Delhi, while there are plans to open these gyms in cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Goa. Apart from this, in the past couple of years, we have encouraged many Amateur MMA Promotions, like the Underground Fight Night, where Karan Chauhan became a big name. We recently organised two events earlier this year. One was in Ghaziabad where we had an attendance of 9000 cheering for the fighters. In September, we hosted a Fight Night in Indore, where the event attracted a crowd of 17,000 people. Earlier this year, Ritu Phogat, the younger sibling of renowned wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat, quit wrestling to sign-up with Singapore based Evolve MMA, which houses the most number of MMA world champions.

Where is India lacking when it comes to MMA?

We have amazing talent in our country, but the problem is that we lack proper infrastructure. We need proper infrastructure and proper facilities for our young athletes, so we help them bring the best out of themselves. We also need our fighters to have constant access to nutritious food, so they are able to follow a healthy diet plan. As a referee, I know what goes on inside a fighter’s mind. The fighter should not be concerned about anything else, but his opponent, and that will only be possible if they have access to good food and facilities.

Your thoughts on the readiness of the Indian fighters for Bahrain?

Our training camp for the upcoming championships was in Bengaluru. We had a team of five coaches, which included two international coaches, to train these 11 fighters. Along with the coaching, we ensured to keep a proper catering service so we could give our fighters a proper, nutritious diet. We do not want any fighter to be neglected in any aspect.

First Published:
Oct 27, 2019 15:28 IST

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