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2017 in Indian MMA

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The very idea of professional combat sports is something relatively new to the Indian masses, so one can easily understand what must be the position of a sport which has a close to non-existing recognition on major international platforms. MMA as a sport isn’t something large scale Indian masses understand. Most people either recognize the sport under the brand name UFC or simply associate it to WWE. The thin populations which actually know what MMA is usually stick to watching major UFC cards and have little or no interest in engaging in the mainstream sport. So at the end, it is a fraction of the entire MMA fan following in India which actually is interested in the sport. However, even that fraction of population is easily over 100,000 people. Therefore, if you compare the number of hardcore MMA fans in almost every small country MMA superpower (Poland, Ireland, etc.) the number of hard-core MMA fans will be almost equal.

So clearly the population might of India, a country with over a billion people with 70% of its population being under 35, MMA can clearly make a lot of business in India. However, things are always easier said than done. If it was so easy to attract Indian masses towards this full contact sport, someone would have achieved it. Yup, people have tried to establish their MMA market in India and have failed miserably.

In fact 2017 itself has seen two promotions trying to bring relevance to the Indian MMA scene. The first was by the Super Fight League in the form of the “first-ever” MMA league. The expectation and hype created around the league was unrealistic. In fact the billionaire and the head of SFL Bill Dosanjh, in an interview to The MMA India Show, made a very bold (and unrealistic) comparison of the concept of the MMA league to that of Pro Kabaddi League. Now Kabaddi is India’s sport. Most Indians have either heard the tales of this sport or have played it themselves, so comparing it to a sport which has little recognition amongst the masses is wrong.  On top of that the entire concept of the league wasn’t safe for fighters to compete in.

The concept of the league was to put MMA fighters in different teams. And making it team against team. To win, one team had to secure the maximum number of points. With the scoring system being as follows:

  1. Draw = 1 point Unanimous/Majority/Split
  2. Referee Decision = 3 points Unanimous/Split
  3. TKO = 4 points
  4. Submission = 5 points
  5. KO = 6 points           

So for a fighter, the major aim wasn’t only winning. It was to win in a devastating fashion so that they could secure as many points as possible for their team. In a perfect world this wouldn’t have bothered anyone, but things were far from being okay, much less perfect. The promotion expected each fighter in the league to compete at least three times (and for the top four teams it was five times) in less than two months. However, to SFL management things seemed fine as they had a substitute fighter for each player. This clearly had many flaws. If one fighter were to get injured in the first match, the substitute fighter is supposed to compete in his place. Now just imagine if the substitute fighter gets injured in the second fight. What now? One fighter must compete, that means either way one is bound to injure himself even further. In combat sports an athlete needs to respect his body. Damages inflicted by a knockout or submission stoppage, which are bound to be common in the league as it gets more points to the team, tend to leave a heavy damage on a fighter’s body. In cases of knockouts athletes are usually expected to not have any contact for at least two months, but here they were expected to fight three times!!!               

If you think things cannot get worse, then you’re wrong. An important part of fighter safety is good refereeing. Indian referees are horrid when it comes to stoppages and pointing out illegal strikes. Throughout the league the referees failed to stop matches when necessary. A particular nasty incident which got much negative reaction was seen in the match between Asha Roka and Hannah Kampf on the semifinals of the league. The referee failed to notice the submission and the corner man had to rush in to stop the match.       

However, not everything about the league was bad. The league did manage to get both local and international attention. In fact some top contenders, including Asha Roka even gained a lot of attention. The league in fact even managed to, for the first time, get major mainstream attention to the local MMA scene in India. This gave many fighters the opportunity to showcase their talent on a large platform. This exposure changed the life of many. This doesn’t change the fact that there were some major level blunders which could have cost many fighters their careers. The league was bound to experience some mistakes as it was their first time but clearly some of them could have been avoided. If there is one thing which we all must remember that fighter safety is one of the most important parts of the game. I don’t intend to insult or discreet the work done by SFL but they must remember that when a fighter enters the cage he puts his life on the line. Hence, the safety of that fighter cannot be put at risk.     

The second major event which happened was Brave 5, which got in-depth coverage from Pro MMA Now. The event was held on April 23rd in Mumbai, India. The event was beyond doubt one of the most stacked cards ever assembled in the history of Indian MMA. However, they failed to live up to the hype. One major goof up by Brave was the failure of the live stream. The stream, surprisingly, stopped working when the fight between Nelson Paes and Ronaldo Dy saw a controversial accidental headbutt. And since then the stream never worked properly. People certainly expect better from a global promotion. Not only were diehard fans from across the globe watching the event online but so were many Indians who were willing to give MMA a chance. Failure of the live stream left them no source and hence Brave lost the chance of earning some new fans and may have turned some off. There can be technical errors by anyone but when a promotion takes the center stage and calls themselves a global platform one starts expecting stuff. So if they were facing some error, as a responsible team, they should have fixed it and connected to the fans as soon as possible. An entire breakdown of the card was covered by us.

So 2017 hasn’t been so bad for Indian MMA. Yes, we have experienced a few setbacks but we are improving day by day. More stories coming soon. Stay tuned for more stories.

-Paarth Pande
(@PandePaarth)

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