In the world’s second most populated country (soon to be the first), MMA is still stuck on the runway in a lot of ways. Compared to neighboring China, India still lacks far behind in terms of producing elite MMA talent.
Despite having a strong wrestling culture, the sporting heart of India primarily belongs to cricket. Still, even a small minority of the population could still cover the hole in the UFC roster reserved for South Asia. So why hasn’t India caught up with some its Asian neighbors in the MMA world?
Multiple answers to that questions exist, including a lack of professional training centers and the resources to sustain promotions over the long haul. While those solutions are more “top-down” issues, from the bottom-up, a lack of legitimacy surrounding the regional fight scene.
As the writer of this article also manages the Indian MMA records for Tapology.com, a primary MMA records-keeping database, plenty of MMA event results from India never become finalized to fighters’ records. The reason Indian fight records require discernment and often several eyes is because of a culture of fight-fixing and intentional mismatches infecting the regional scene.
For any talent market to develop from the grass-roots level, equitable competition has to exist to push athletes to bring out their best and take training to a higher level. If a lack of real competition pervades the culture, skill is more likely to remain a low level. This is one reason many athletes develop their skills and fitness at such a rapid pace once they sign with the UFC- the stakes are their highest.
Alter Egos & Showmanship
On the regional MMA scene in India, duplicity can occur both from the promoter and the fighter. Across multiple recent events throughout India, it’s not uncommon for athletes to fight under false names as part of an agreement to pad other fighters’ records.
For example, at an event called “The Hero: Pro Fight Night 2” on October 25, 2020, Sumit Kumar fought Prakesh Raut in a pro flyweight fight. Sumit finished Raut in the first round with punches and earned the first win of his pro career. Everything seemed normal for a casual observer in the audience – except that there is no fighter actually named Prakesh Raut.
Mukul Anand assumed the name of Prakesh Raut for the Kumar fight, and agreed to put up just a good enough fight for it to appear legitimate, while still allowing Kumar to get the win. A prominent commentator in Indian MMA, Rahul Chhabra, personally confirmed that he spoke some time later to Anand, who confirmed that this is what happened. At the time, everyone wins… the fans get a good show, Sumit gets a win on his record, and Mukul doesn’t receive a loss on his.
In total, three fights have been removed thus far from Kumar’s Tapology record for similar instances of fight-fixing. And he’s not the only one who has tried this scheme of fighting opponents under false aliases, which Chhabra calls “ghost fighters”. He claims that this kind of under-the-table dealing happens all too often in Indian MMA.
Other matches see fighters with glittering undefeated records taking on opponents with no fights or worse, lopsided losing records. At a promotion called Yogya MMA, it’s common to see undefeated fighters consistently fighting opponents with no pro record, but never each other. With a reputation lacking integrity, it’s no wonder why media companies are reluctant to offer broadcasting deals to upstart promotions, which would invest money back in to the Indian MMA ecosystem.
An obvious question surrounding the mess of things in India is why a governing oversight, such as an athletic commission, doesn’t force transparency upon event management. Currently, India does not have a government-sponsored athletic commission as the United States enjoys. There are some sanctioning bodies that are beginning to give rule enforcement to Indian events, such as the All-Indian Mixed Martial Arts Association (AIMMAA). But it’s not widespread throughout all events…
The Shroffs Fight Back
One organization that is trying to change the narrative for Indian MMA is Matrix Fight Night. Despite promoting only nine shows, MFN has already become the most successful MMA organization to emerge from India. They recently signed a massive deal to stream on Disney+ Hotstar domestically. The company is owned and operated by the legendary Shroff family, who are practically royalty in the Indian Bollywood scene.
They’ve been able to give Indian MMA the resources and exposure that it’s always needed, as well as the infrastructure to stick around for years to come. Even compared to other global promotions that have endured for decades, the product that the Shroffs have created in a short time is streamlined and elegant. It’s the perfect destination for aspiring Indian fighters wanting to create a career for themselves through honest work.
According to Chhabra, who is the lead commentator for the organization, MFN only signs fighters from established gyms who are well-known to the Indian MMA scene. The company runs background checks on every athlete and processes identification documents to ensure that each competitor is actually who they say they are.
In addition, the Shroffs are in process of building a state-of-the-art super gym for MFN fighters to come and train. They’re bringing in high-level coaches from the around the world to lead the way and giving athletes that wouldn’t otherwise have money to access to top-notch facilities exactly that. It’s not too dissimilar from what the UFC Performance Institute has been to the Chinese talent pool.
The raw ability is there, the resources are now there, and the passion is certainly there. But work still remains to push out self-dealing interests from the equation of Indian MMA.