Despite being a niche sport, the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has grown rapidly on an international level with a legion of fans across the world. And since Asia has a rich history of martial art, one might see the appeal that MMA has in the continent. But in India, where cricketers are revered as gods, MMA still has a long way to go—although it is making slow progress. Organisations such as Full Contact Championship (FCC) are paving the way for this martial art in India with regularly hosted Fight Nights in Mumbai and Goa.
Based out of Mumbai and founded in 2007, FCC is the brainchild of Prashant Kumar, who has long been a practitioner of martial arts. With a black belt in taekwondo, training in kickboxing, muay thai, judo and wrestling, it came as no surprise when he told us he was a big fan of Bruce Lee as a child, who fed his fascination about all things related to martial arts. “I used to participate in Free Style Fighting in Mumbai in the early 90s (1990 to 1993). In 1994, I read about the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Champion] in Black Belt Magazine and that’s where the idea of launching an MMA network in India on a professional scale came about,” he told us.
Kumar began the groundwork long before FCC was fully formed—it wasn’t easy getting fighters involved in something that most people criticise for being ‘just brutal violence’. “Majority of the fighters would refuse upon hearing the concept. I travelled to different places across the country, in search of martial artists who were open to MMA, and started getting in touch with contemporaries who had students who were medal holders in different arts like kickboxing, and judo at the national, state and district levels”, he explained. It took almost a year, but he finally managed to shortlist a few fighters who he says are mainly from rural India. Holding training camps in Mumbai, he bore all the expenses for travel, food and stay himself, as he personally cross-trained them in stand-up and ground fighting disciplines, getting them ready for FCC.
Struggling to find sponsors for the event, Kumar funded the initial few fights himself and proved successful in raking in audiences of close to 600 people, all of whom heard about it by word of mouth. Now, with plans to move to larger and more upscale venues, the crowd is only going to grow.
“The reception has been fantastic, and extremely encouraging. We have a dedicated fan base (which is growing), who make sure to attend every FCC Fight Night, and all this without any marketing till FCC 11. We would reach out to the audience only by word of mouth, and a little bit of social media till recently. Along the way, FCC has been featured in top publications nationally, as well as globally. Today, the scenario is even better, with two of my friends, namely Joy Kapur and Binoy Khimji, who own Silverkick Entertainment, having invested in FCC to help take it to the next level. Our most recent event, FCC 12 saw some mainstream promotions, and had a great lineup of sponsors as well. The reaction of the crowd that attends is phenomenal. It’s one thing to watch fights in movies, and a totally different experience to watch MMA live at close quarters. People get blown away by the sheer raw energy, and adrenaline rush of the Fight Nights.”
MMA has had to constantly battle heavy criticism globally, since people often brand it as barbaric brawls between thugs, even likening it to human cockfighting. Groups like Ultimate Fighting Championship jump to the defense of MMA, taking on critics that don’t recognise it as a real sport, or its fighters as athletes. “As far as violence goes, that is just a perception,” Kumar told us, further adding, “MMA as a sport is far more safe and multi-dimensional, as compared to combat sports like boxing, which are more one-dimensional, and hence more dangerous. In MMA, an athlete can strike different parts of the body, and apply various techniques like kicks, punches, and can take the fight to the ground, and apply submissions as well.”
Kumar does have a point. A 2008 study undertaken by John Hopkins University to observe the injury trends in MMA discovered that head trauma and cerebral haemorrhages are the number one cause of death in combat sport, found more likely in boxing than MMA. In boxing, with ten to twelve rounds of repeated strikes to the head, the boxer falls only to get up and be knocked out again. On the other hand, in an MMA event, fighters always have the option to tap out, and when a fighter is knocked out the fight is over.
The one thing we can say for certain is that with FCC, Kumar has created a platform for Indian martial artists to showcase their talent and skills. He has shed light on self-made fighters from all over the country and various sections of society, giving them the attention, training and appreciation that they deserve. MMA remains pretty unknown in India among the masses and one of Kumar’s missions is to create awareness about the sport in a country that, as Kumar said earlier, is ‘overdosing on cricket.’