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The Roar of the Indian Lioness: In Conversation with Manjit Kolekar

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Manjit Kolekar made her way to the Invicta FC cage in September 2016 to make her debut on U.S. soil as she was the first ever Indian to fight for the premier women’s MMA league. Her opponent was explosive Brazilian knockout artist Kaline Medeiros, who was a hot favorite for a title shot. Manjit was a huge underdog as she entered the fight and wasn’t expected to last more than a minute against “The Dark Angel”, but as the fight began people understood how wrong were they. Manjit didn’t only survive the first minute or first round she went on to produce a decent performance as she evaded the veteran and took the fight to the judges. That night Manjit lost via unanimous decision… two months later, November, 2016, I am sitting in a café with a girl with a broken hand, two of her friends and four coffee cups.

MMA isn’t what you would call popular in India, masses have no idea what this sport is and hence the sport has never had limelight attention. What got you into MMA?

I was an amateur boxer. One day I got a call for a local MMA match and without thinking much I said yes. I won the match solely relying on my boxing skills. I enjoyed the match, it was way more violent than boxing and had fewer rules which resulted in way more action. Hence, I decided to take up MMA.

Har ladki ko make up acha lagta hai. Mujhe bhi par mera makeup thoda alag hai. Mujhe khoon khoon hone vala makeup chahiye. Mujhe apni life main aise fights ladni this jisme main khoon main naha luin. MMA mera ye sapna pura kar sakta tha.

Girls love makeup, so do I. But my makeup involves blood. I always dream of fights in which I walk out from a pool of blood and I knew that MMA was a sport which would make my dream come true.

India is known for being a conservative male dominant society. Female athletes at every point have expressed that they don’t get support from their close ones and hence must call it a career because of constant pressure and negative reaction from family members. Did people around you support you for taking up combat sports? What are your thoughts on the conservative attitude of people towards women in our society?

My parents are one of the main reason for my success. My dad is a sports enthusiast, he has always pushed me to chase my dreams and is one of the main reasons why I have managed to survive tough times. My mother, who lives in Nasik where she looks after our farm, has too encouraged me and helped me move forward.

In India people pay way too much attention to what others will think about them, in this we forget to achieve our dreams. Don’t let others come in your path to glory. Don’t let social vices hold you down. And for the people who have…

“Ek bar ladkiyon ko moka deke dekho, ladko se zyada nam karengi.”

Give them the chance to achieve something they won’t ever disappoint you. Today a girl can achieve as much as any man.

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You became the first fighter from India to compete in the Invicta FC. It was a big achievement for Indian MMA. How was your experience? What were the challenges that you faced?

You always face challenges, it’s a part of your life. It was my first experience outside India, hence I faced language problems and had no one from India. This made things a bit difficult as it was a bit uncomfortable for me to express myself. But the people over there were very helpful. I didn’t have anybody to take my padding and had negligible resources for my warm up. But the people over there were very helpful, Alexa Grasso and her team were very kind. Her coach took my padding and even advised me on a few topics. Alexa’s friend Irene Aldana even shared her coffee with me, which felt very good as I had none.

“I would want to thank Alexa Grasso, Irene Aldana and her entire team for their help.”

People over there tried their best to make sure that I felt comfortable, I was very happy that they treated me with such respect.

This was your first professional loss. How has it affected you? Despite the loss people were impressed with your performance as you weren’t expected to last a round but you managed to take the fight to decision and even delivered some damage.

I haven’t let the loss affect me much, after all, winning and losing is a part of a sport. I had entered the fight with an injured hand, it broke after the second round. She was also the most experienced fighter I have ever faced and hence was not surprised the power and skill set she had. I could have performed better am sure about it. People always predict stuff and usually it is against me. I knew it that people didn’t expect me to last long but I usually prove people wrong.

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Indian MMA fighters have in past faced lots of troubles. Complaints about not being paid at all for fighting, complaints about emotional torture from organizations, troubles from managing teams, and lack of support from everybody. As a fighter, have you faced any of these problems?

Yes, all the things that people listen to are not rumors they are facts. Most of us Indian fighters have not been paid by promotions. And no one has had a better firsthand experience of emotional and mental torture by organizations and people in power. There was a time when no one would answer my phone, there was a large scale Manjit Kolekar boycott movement.

“I was getting no fights and all the people who are now using my name and claiming that they are the ones behind my success weren’t even ready to recognize me. I would literally get up in the middle of night and do pushups for the sake of it, had it not been for my team I wouldn’t have been standing over here.”

And if I start talking about the troubles we fighters face from these “managers” we would be here all day. They cheat, they steal, they try to make sure they are the ones who grow instead of fighters, they make fake promises to lure fighters into contracts and then drain fighters in every way possible to earn. This by the way is just a small part of the torture they unleash on us. Today every manager in India is rich and is living a luxurious life on the expense of their fighters, the money which should belong to fighters is wrongly kept by the managers, the money which a fighter could use to train himself is used by managers to lead an extravagant life.

My last manager was a thug. In a contract of over three years he got me zero fights. I got every fight by myself and had to manage everything from training to sponsors. Despite not giving me anything he would charge me. He in fact boasted that he was the one who got me a contract with Invicta FC whereas when I contacted people over there they knew nothing about him.

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When he came to know that I was not going into Invicta FC via him he started spreading rumors about me. He went on to write it to media houses that I was taking performance enhancing drugs and was using unfair means to win. I was even questioned by various people that was I on drugs? And I went through all this just days before my fight. I literally had no one to help me in America and I really have no words to describe how I felt when I learnt of this. As an athlete, I would rather lose than cheat, all these comments and false allegations hampered my concentration. That is the method used by these people. They torture you, they make sure you become helpless so that you fall to their demands. It’s a request to everyone please contact me if you have any questions which concern me. Fighters in India are treated without any respect and we are undermined by these people.

Would you please elaborate on instances where you haven’t been paid? What exactly do you mean by the tough phase that you went through?

All started way back in SFL Challengers. The reality show which I won. The winner of the show was promised 25 lacks. But when I won the show, I didn’t get a single rupee. I asked them time and again but they refused to answer my phone or emails, I went into their office every day and fought and at last they paid me 5 lacks. That by the way is 1/5th of what they promised. They have very proudly written that they have paid me this and that, but the reality of SFL is that they cheated not only me but several others. They in fact were the ones who tried to break me mentally. They wouldn’t answer my phone, kept me hanging on and refused to let me fight out of SFL for over a year, and apart from that they didn’t even give me a single fight. I would literally beg for fights but the call would go unanswered. It may sound rude but my experience with SFL has been one of the most horrible experiences of my life.

I even know that there are a few good people in the promotion, Raj Kundra, Shila Shetty and Mary Kom. These people helped me a lot during the show and were very good to everyone. They all encouraged us and guided us.

“Raj Kundra, Sir if you are reading this I want to meet you.”

The tough phase was a period of 3 years. This was the time when no one was willing to accept me. Reason? I don’t know. I was not getting any fights, I was not getting any call, Indian MMA was seeing a large-scale boycott of Manjit Kolekar. Only I know how horrible that time was, allegations were raised on me, promotions refused to recognize me. And during that time, I only had my parents support. I am exceptionally lucky to have such parents.

What is one of the major reasons for the bullying of fighters by the management?

Lack of awareness. In India, we always expect athletes to win but are not ready to give them the respect they deserve. We don’t promote sports and ignore regional talent. This gives these people the opening to bully them as people won’t even know something like this is happening.

“There are people in our country who think that MMA is fake. Come in the gym once, train with us and then we can talk what is fake and real.”

What is your next step?

My loss at Invicta FC gave me a reality check that I needed to train. I am planning to go for a training camp in Thailand. I am injured right now so will be looking for next fight not before March. Right now, I plan to train here.

I at last have found a good team and the gym which I train in, Superfit Combat is excellent. Superfit is unlike any other gym which I have trained in and has helped me a lot in growing as a fighter. A very special thanks to our gym owner and guide John Thomas for being my sponsor and helping me with things.

“My game has improved a lot and it is because of my team of Swapnil Jagtapp, Trishal Gaykwad, Manju Manhotra, Bhavini Prajapati and Ashok Pawar. These people have helped me a lot in improving my game and it is their support which helped me counter the tough times. Also my new gym Superfit Combat has helped me improve and increase my skill set, John Thomas the owner of the gym too has helped me.”

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What message do you have for our audience?

Please support MMA fighters, don’t believe anything which is written about us on Internet. Half of the time things are wrong. To my fellow fighters please avoid any thug you encounter. These people will destroy you. Contact a reliable source, contact a journalist if needed to know the reality of the person whom you are dealing with. We have tons of talent in India, don’t let it go to waste, please help the fighters around you and remember that you may hear things about a fighter but I assure it to you more than half of them aren’t true. All these rumors are spread to destroy a fighter emotionally, so that he becomes weak and his concentration is diverted.

“And lastly I would also want to take this opportunity to thank Shiv Sena leader who arranged my tickets Eknath Shinde and Arun Ashank. Special thanks to Mane Mam. Thanks to Dilip reporter for bringing my story out which helped me gain sponsors. A special call out to my sponsors. Thanks to Nitish Karange and Nitin Dhabu for their guidance. Indian MMA media has been very supportive of me, Akhilesh Gannavarapu and you, Paarth Pande, have been very kind to trust me thank you for that.”

Thanks for your time and comments Manjit.

-Paarth Pande
(@PandePaarth)

  • Aaron Jupp

    great article!

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