Fight Club - The rise of MMA in India

Pankration – a sport in the Greek Olympic Games – started in 648 BC. Two men fought without the use of weapons, using their bodies to force each other into submission. The only rule was to not bite and gouge the opponent’s eyes; everything else goes including shots to the genitals and hair pulling.

Over the course of time, the fighters also mixed the traditional martial arts of wrestling and boxing into the contest, giving birth to something that closely resembles modern-day mixed martial arts (MMA). Since then, the sport of Pankration has evolved into the much bigger and popular sport of MMA, propagated by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), carving out a small niche generation-by-generation in the land of 1.3 billion people.

In India – just like ancient Greece – fighting in the dust have been something of a haven for pahelwans indulging in pahelwani or kushti, a form of wrestling with influences from Iran. And while the first recorded instance of a modern-day MMA fight in India came as recently as 1985 in Nasik, Maharashtra, pahelwans had already built their illustrious careers out of the sport of kushti for a century, long before today’s MMA fighter came into existence in India.

MMA in India is growing, slowly but surely, one gym at a time. Today, India boasts of several dozen gym affiliated with some of the masters in the sport, an elite-level professional league - the Super Fight League - a burgeoning group of fighters, a progressive female fighting community, and even a fighter who fought in the UFC.

In today’s story Joseph Solomon (tries to) condense MMA’s history in India.

About the Writer

Joseph Solomon is a practitioner of martial arts and a bronze medalist in the Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Open 2017. He has been published at VICE.

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