It is quite well known that India is a cricket crazy country, with football being the other sport enjoying as much footage. However, there are reports which indicate that there is a massive surge in the popularity of MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, with MMA studios and gyms cropping up in various corners of the country.
What makes MMA different from all the other kinds of underground combat sports is that MMA follows a set of rules and regulations, as enforced by the league officials, extremely strictly. There are eight different categories based on weight and several rules are in place to ensure fairness and this is one thing that distinguishes it from underground circuits and makes it a mainstream sport.
While many sports like NBA and Formula 1 are also trying incredibly hard to score a viewership in India, MMA is the only one which has been successful in making a proper impact. The MMA India Show recently released a complete list of the awardees for their first ever annual award show.
There are many factors that lead to this newfound enthusiasm about mixed martial arts.
First and foremost is the question of adrenaline, which also explains why the WWE franchise enjoys such global popularity and success. These MMA matches are extremely unpredictable and fast-paced, a classic example for which would be the 2015 match where Jose Aldo was defeated by Conor McGregor at the UFC 194 main event, in just 13 seconds. This surely was one of McGregor’s best UFC fights till date.
Moreover, whatever happens in the cage is not only unstimulated and spontaneous it does not by any means follow a script. This appeals to fans more as well.
The players also have interesting backgrounds, sometimes from other sports and sometimes presenting rags to riches stories. This also contributes much to the growth in popularity of MMA in India. Rajesh Kaul, the head of Sports Business for Sony Pictures Networks India, said, “UFC remains the most-watched mixed martial arts property in India. The sport has enjoyed considerable growth in viewership over the past few years, with more than 100 million viewers.” He also said that the viewership was not disproportionate on the basis of gender as women contributed to a sizeable 44%. This can be owed somewhat to the popularity that the female players enjoy in this sport. This has also led to an invigoration of betting on this sport and a lot of online betting sites in India are testimony to this fact.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and its worldwide popularity are primarily responsible for the surge in interest and viewership of this sport, followed closely by Bellator.
While earlier it used to be restricted to bare minimum slots if at all since its newfound appreciation in India has been realised, telecom corporations have also started to promote it. Matches are screened across restaurants and cafes and now even fans have started to host regular UFC watch parties.
Many influencers have joined the ranks in order to promote this sport and many gyms and fitness studios have also started to offer workout routines based on or structured around mixed martial arts. Parvin Dabas’s show, the MMA India Show also gets a lot of viewership and has helped in building up and bringing together a community of like-minded people who enjoy and are interested in the sport of mixed martial arts.
MMA has made its mark in the film world as well with Delhi based Von Saxena’s MMA India: Fighting For A Dream. In this film, he interviews 15 MMA practitioners and showcases their struggles and triumphs. It also tracks a brief history of MMA in the country, starting from the 1990s when UFC tried to recruit Indian fighters to 2012 when the Super Fight League was started with the backing of Sanjay Dutt and Raj Kundra.
Indian origin Indian Bhullar, from Canada, a freestyle wrestler, who had competed in the 2012 Olympic Games, had started his MMA career by joining UFC. Ritu Phogat, one of the Phogat sisters, the Commonwealth Medal-winning wrestler, of late made a transition to MMA.
With her joining the sport, the interest of the Indian masses, in this sport is bound to go up. She instilled confidence in her fans by securing a win over Kim Nam-hee on MMA debut. She follows in the footsteps of her predecessors like Gurdarshan Mangat, Priyanka Jeet Toshi Mohammed Farhad Manjit Kolekar and Bharat Kandare.