Even though MMA or mixed martial arts bouts have been taking place throughout the world since the 1900s, the sport has only recently gained massive popularity in the West with organisations like UFC and Pride promoting fights in a huge way.
In India however, it’s a different story. To figure out why it hasn’t picked up in our country yet, we speak to Khushnoor Jijina, a practitioner of the sport as well as someone who is currently training young athletes hungry enough to prove themselves in the ring.
Jijina began training in martial arts at the age of eleven. He’s highly proficient in both Karate as well as Judo for which he has won numerous awards. These two arts strengthened his base that he then expanded significantly by training with several experts in Kickboxing, Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. This opened up the doors to competitive MMA including the FCC Championship and as well as the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).
He no longer fights professionally but since then, he’s added Krav Maga to his repertoire of skills and has even doubled up as judge for many MMA events across the country.
So why do you think MMA isn’t that popular in India?
There are multiple reasons why MMA hasn’t become a mainstream sport in India.
Firstly, MMA is relatively new as a sport, unlike traditional martial arts that have been around since the last century. However several teachers have taught various aspects of MMA in their classes such as Kickboxing, Boxing, Taekwondo without necessarily labelling it as MMA.
Secondly, MMA is a brutal sport and that goes against the Indian psyche, which has never accepted more blood-letting for the sake of sport. It is far more accepting of traditional martial arts that teach respect, ethics and discipline, while focusing on developing the spirit and the mentality to fight only if the need arises.
Thirdly, there isn’t enough institutional or financial support. It’s a chicken-egg problem. 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.
What are some of the problems you’ve faced while trying to promote MMA in India? What are some of the challenges faced by today’s fighters?
Many fighters are entering MMA just to make some money. The students are not adequately conditioned to take a brutal beating. MMA fighters must be well-accomplished in grappling and boxing techniques, as well as ground work.
Secondly, there is no proper base yet on which to build MMA in India. Every traditional martial art has pillars on which the art is based, MMA lacks such a base. It takes a few techniques from Boxing, Muay Thai, Karate, Judo, and these aren’t very effective against really well trained mixed martial artists.
We need at least about 10 more years for the art to mature in India.
Do you think MMA can become as popular in India as it is in the West?
The brutal nature of MMA makes it difficult to be adopted widely as a means of practice. MMA can become popular and mainstream, if there is more structure to the art and clear lines of progression, so that it can be practiced not just as means of fighting but also as a form of discipline and self-improvement.
To be practiced in clubs, gymnasiums and as a form of recreation/socialization, elements of MMA will need to be stripped of their lethality and practiced for the self-improvement and self-awareness that they give to a practitioner.
Why have companies like UFC, Strikeforce etc not entered India yet?
UFC and Strikeforce will enter India only when there is a greater awareness and interest, even if only at the spectator level.
Could you give us an example of an MMA fighter’s routine, including diet? Do you have to be of a certain fitness level to consider training?
Train to develop great skills, train for super strength, agility and fitness, because that’s what you need when you fight. Eat a healthy diet that consists of protein, good fats, clean carbohydrates like vegetables, lentils and grains, and try to minimize your junk food intake.
You do not need to be of a certain level of fitness to consider training. Once you start to train and are sincere, you will get to your desired fitness. Of course, you need to be of a certain fitness level to fight and train competitively, but not recreationally. Training consistently is the key to getting better – in all sports.