The world’s first mixed martial arts tournament, promoted by British businessman and philanthropist Bill Dosanjh and professional boxer Amir Khan is here. The Super Fight League (SFL) is cultivating a new wave of MMA fighters for the four billion-dollar industry. While martial arts has been traditionally considered men’s forte, especially in this part of the world, Indian women are now increasingly entering the male-dominated sphere of combat sport. Shikha Chauhan and Kiran Singh are two of the many female players competing in this league. They tell us about their journeys.
Formed in 2012 with an intent to give Indian mixed martial artists a platform to compete and hone talent whilst bringing in talented fighters from different parts of the world, SFL is a revolutionary approach to combat and features female fighters too.
Currently India is home to around 10 million fighters, many coming from a Kushti background. Kushti is the second most-watched online sport in India after cricket. In fact, India and fighting tradition date way back, the 3,000-year-old south Indian art of fighting Kalaripayattu, is even older than Kung Fu. The league aims to reintroduce and popularise India’s time honoured fighting tradition.
“I was always interested in these type of combat activities, and hence choosing martial arts was not surprising,” says Chauhan, who practises MMA despite her joint hypermobility. Inspired by Akshay Kumar with his action movies, she dreams to meet her idol someday.
Playing in the Haryana Sultans team of SFL, Chauhan says that determination is the only way to succeed, no matter what. “I have been a weak person since childhood because of joints hypermobility syndrome (or flexible joints in layman’s language). I couldn’t carry my body weight on my feet and used to fall often while walking and running. I even had TB in the bone of my elbow. Once I fell down from stairs and got my hand fractured. Nobody from my family managed to notice that I was unable to move my hand for the next two years. When my mom did notice, she took me to several doctors for years until it got cured gradually,” she narrates her struggle of overcoming her health issues and resistance from family.
She wasn’t allowed to lift any heavy weights, so learning martial arts was difficult. “I finally found a great instructor in Sensei Abhishek Bisht, who decided to train me if I showed enough dedication. I suffered lot of pain. I didn’t even have the money to pay his fees. So I took tuition classes and paid him some fees. It’s because of him that I am part of SFL today,” says the 24-year-old fighter.
For Singh, on the other hand, family support wasn’t an issue given her father’s Army background. The Delhi-based fighter who started off her career with o-sports, began practising MMA in 2013. She holds a record of 3-0 in amateur MMA fights and has won several gold medals in the art of wrestling. “I faced a number of physical and emotional challenges while training for this. But I don’t like to talk about it. All I know is that I am here today because of my instructor and family support,” the 21-year-old says.
Chauhan too, having overcome all these challenges, is now training in Mixed Martial Arts, Grappling, Brazilian Jiu Jutsu, Karate, Kickboxing, Self Defence Techniques , pencak silat, etc. “To get selected in SFL was my dream. This is just the beginning,” she concludes.
SFL, on its part, is doing more than hosting the tournament. Over the next five years, each franchisee in the SFL is contracted to develop five gyms in their team’s city. These gyms will be where the SFL fighters will train themselves and others. This is an ecosystem to build a grassroots level of fighters and a rare revenue model.
SFL also has fight nights Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which makes the sport more accessible. The league has so far received patronage from personalities like Ajay Devgn, Randeep Hooda, Jacqueline Fernandez, Arbaaz Khan, Arjun Rampal, Salim Suleiman and Tiger Shroff amongst others. Most of these fight themselves. So when they celebrate the sport, they’re actually invested in it.
Organised in association with the All-India Martial Arts Association (AIMMAA), the franchise-based league, this year, aims to promote gender equality through a fair and unique platform with women having the same influence on the team as men.
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Season 2 that kicked off on February 9 will go on till March 17 at MTV SFL Arena, Famous Studios, Mumbai and airs on MTV.