The sport of Mixed Martial Arts is growing rapidly in India and today it’s one of the most popular sports in India. Many MMA fans got interested in the sport through the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is one of the biggest MMA organizations in the world.
UFC’s impeccable marketing and their ability to build stars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor managed to build a sizable audience in India. MMA is now in a very healthy position in India with big promotions like UFC and Bellator regularly being shown on Indian television networks.
Seeing the success of the big organizations, numerous homegrown promotions have also popped up across India. MMA gyms which were previously only visible in megacities have now started coming up in tier-2 and tier-3 cities as well. While the majority of the fanbase started following the sport in the past decade, there are few who have been following the sport right from its inception.
One such personality is Bangalore based MMA coach Vishal Seigell. He started KOI Combat Academy in Bangalore mainly to mentor and coach athletes from weak economic backgrounds and has also trained some of the best fighters in India. The 45-year old started training in 1981 in Karate and then gradually progressed to Judo and then other different forms of Martial Arts.
The MMA India Show had the opportunity to chat with Vishal Seigell, where he elaborated on his journey.
1.) How did you get started as an MMA coach? Did you do MMA personally? What type of Martial Arts did you begin your career in?
I started Martial Arts in 1981-82 in Karate and I followed my brother and I was only six-years-old. I was very uncoordinated, clumsy, and couldn’t run as fast as the other kids. Mom allowed me to go to Karate classes with my brother. But around 1984, I started doing Judo under coach Umesh Kumar and I did Judo until 1988-89. But around 1987, I also started doing kickboxing and in 1989 I started doing ITF Taekwondo under TAI.
I started TKD because we moved to a different location, so I couldn’t travel for my Judo classes. So I stuck with taekwondo and Kickboxing. Around 1993, I got my first blackbelt and in 1995, I went to the US for college in Kansas and Florida. In Kansas, where I was based there was no ITF Taekwondo, So I competed in WTF Taekwondo, which is an Olympic style and ATA (American Taekwondo Association) which is also traditional style Taekwondo. In this type of Taekwondo, they don’t allow face punches.
When I started Kickboxing and Taekwondo, I competed in a lot of striking competitions along with Judo competitions. I competed in the Olympic style, traditional style…I competed in Karate competitions, Kickboxing tournaments, Wushu tournaments, Tai Chi Chuan tournaments. In those days, we didn’t have mats, only Judo guys had mats. Once I broke my Jaw and had a pretty bad concussion as my head hit the cement floor. We used to fight in the cement floors or the wooden floors and the Talkatora stadium. I went abroad and competed and trained in Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Nepal, and Thailand. I gained a lot of experience competing at the international tournaments, I also got the chance to compete at the World Martial Arts Games, Taekwondo World Championship, International Karate Championship, National Judo Championship. I was a multiple-time National Gold medalist.
Around 1994-95, I was in the US and went to a supermarket to buy some groceries and I was looking for some video and then I came across some UFC VHS tapes and I started watching them and I got to watch the first four events and I was hooked. In 2001, I started training at Crawford’s MMA, American Ju-Jitsu in Kansas. This is where a lot of fighters from Midwest used to train and it was also the first team out of Kansas & Missouri that made it big. AJJ produced fighters like Rob Kimmons, Curtis Stout, Leo Pla, Ethan Banda, Brad Jones, Travis Phippen, Bobby Voelker, Jobe Duran, Rob Haney, John Cornett, Sarah Schnider, Rudy Bears, Steve Schnider, etc. Even noted MMA referee Herb Dean is a black belt from AJJ.
I got into their Martial Arts system and I got into their fight side and their traditional side. I trained in the AJJ Self-Defense system and Pancreation and I was also doing the AJJ (grappling), which at that time was a relative of JJ/ BJJ. In the midwest, we didn’t have any BJJat the time, so whatever my instructor would go and learn and I learned it from them. I was with Crawford’s MMA for the whole duration, I was in Kansas. Apart from that, I was also working at Wells Fargo Bank. So from 2001 to 2006, I was pretty regular but after that due to my work, I used to miss lots of classes. But that’s basically it, that’s pretty much how I got into MMA. I did my AJJ there for five-years and then I was a training partner for stand-up striking, especially helping fighters out with their counters and kicks, etc. In grappling and Pankration, I competed a bit and in MMA which at that time was also known as NHB (No Holds Barred). In NHB, I fought three times and I won two and lost one. The fight which I lost…I lost very badly and I lost because of my weak grappling ( even though I had a Judo background) and that’s also what got me interested in grappling. It was very difficult to grapple with collegiate wrestlers and experienced submission grapplers.
I was training with guys who eventually went on to fight for promotions like UFC, WEC, Strikeforce, UFC, Cage Rage, Titan Fighting Championship, Bellator, and many others.
2.) You are from Delhi, but your gyms are based in Bangalore, Is there a primary reason behind it? Or is it something that just happened?
I came back from the US in 2011 to India, after quitting my Bank Job with US Bank with a purpose to elevate living standards and empower the unfortunate. I worked with NGOs and also tried to help my mother with the export business. As much as I tried I couldn’t get my mind and heart into it. I was there physically, but not mentally. In 2013, I was married and went through a very rough patch in my life. By the time I got divorced and taking care of the legal proceedings, it was already 2016. I moved to Bangalore with my brother, sister-in-law.
In 2012, I hooked up with Siddharth Singh of Cross-train Fight Club, because I was looking for MMA gyms in Delhi. Before I came back to India. My passion has always been Martial Arts but due to financial constraints, I was working for US Bank. When I was in the US, I was ready to take my oath ceremony for my citizenship and I just decided to pick-up and come back.
I always wanted to start a team of my own, which I did in Bangalore i.e KOI Combat Academy and ever since that has been going on. Its formal inception was Jan 2017 With that being said, everywhere I had been, I have always had students and I have always tried to make a team and have taught people to get them into competition circuits, be it kickboxing, grappling, MMA or whatever form of Martial Arts it is. I have always done my part in mentoring them, coaching them, and putting them in the right place. Most of these athletes don’t know discipline beyond physical exercise.
I have a lot of accolades and medals from being a Martial Artist for such a long time. I have medals in both Olympic style and traditional style Taekwondo. In Judo and AJJ, I was a color belt and in the Pankration and AJJ Self-Defense system, I am a blackbelt. I also hold Black Belts in both ITF and WTF TKD.
Around 2001, when I had already started competing in MMA, I was searching if MMA had started in India and the only gym that popped was Tigers Gym in Nashik run by Grandmaster Isaac and Daniel Isaac. I got in touch and talked with Dan via Yahoo messenger to see if anything would materialize and if we can get the Indian fighters to fight here in the US. But at that time, he was communicating with Bas Rutten, and ultimately the conversation between Dan and I ended. After that, I was very active and I also worked with the Boxing commission in Kansas and at that time there wasn’t any commission for MMA so whatever we were doing, we were doing through this association with the understanding of Boxing and MMA. I am certified by ABC (Association of Boxing Association), but at that time, that’s what was available. I have worked a lot of events in Kansas and throughout Missouri.
3.) What are the struggles that you saw in your career?
I was raised by a single mother and we saw certain hardships in life. My mother is a rockstar, she worked multiple jobs. She started working at a beauty parlor and she worked her way to becoming the GM at the Khaitan brand which is a part of the Williamson Magor group. So we saw some hardships, we saw how a single mother took care of two sons, we saw what she went through, we saw how men misbehaved. So a lot of things were forged in my brother and I and a typical person who hasn’t gone through all of this wouldn’t understand.
I started teaching when I was only 14 or 15 and I used to charge them 100 rupees/month. This was around 1989-90 and I started working with fighters who couldn’t afford to go to competitions and my mother would help them by buying train tickets. Then I went to the US and after coming back from the US, I wasn’t in touch with any of my previous instructors. But I was just in touch with Master Narendra Singh Rawat. He is one of the top instructors of ITF Taekwondo. Under ‘Guruji’ Dr. Senior Master B Rajendran 8th Dan a very legitimate person and Master Rachna Rajendran. In 1990s my Coach Narander Rawat used to tell us about Vale Tudo BJJ and the Gracie brothers ( I never forgot that)
When I came back, I had a lot of students who would come up to me to train at the Crosstrain gym in Delhi. I also had a student who went on to win a Bronze Medal in the traditional Taekwondo World Championship. I also have many guys who won gold medals in the nationals.
4.) Of all the fighters that you have trained, which fighter has accomplished the most?
Amongst all the fighters that I have trained, Roshan Mainam has achieved the most. After that comes Surbala Laishram (Double Gold Medalist Asian in Sport Jiu-Jitsu and National champion in MMA AMMAK-MMA India and Champion in X1), Dinesh Naorem (MMA National Champion – AMMAK -MMA India and AIMMAF), Kishor Gowda (MMA National Gold Medalist U18. Tribhuvan Issar Asian BJJ silver and bronze Medalist), Chungreng Koran (4-0 Amateur and 2-0 Pro MMA), Yumnam Santosh, Ajit Negi (National Championship MMA).
5.) Let’s talk about Roshan Mainam, How did you discover him?
Back in 2015, I was running the morning sessions at Crosstrain, and Roshan was present there. That’s how I first met him and the first thing that I noticed about him was his work ethic and work rate. Initially, he started training at MMA because he required the money and was broke. His father had chronic medical issues. His family had no money and his father was mostly bedridden.
When he heard that MMA fighters make money he came for a seminar and the fee for that was around ₹500 and he thought that it was the fees for the month. After a couple of months, some junior instructor asked him for the fees which were around three to four thousand rupees. He was heartbroken and depressed and said that he was going home. At that time, he used to workout during my session, but I didn’t know much about him and also I was myself going through a very difficult time with my separation and all the false accusations against me which aggravated my mental health issues.
We were training every day and Parth Mittal and Pushpender Singh were already with Crosstrain for a good three to four years and Roshan was able to do very well against them on the ground. But in the beginning, he didn’t want to deal with the striking or BJJ/Grappling….. the stuff beyond wrestling.
Soon he realized the importance and worked on it. In four months, he competed in YFC and AIMMA amateur tournaments. In both the tournaments, he won, in the bantamweight and flyweight category respectively. So in the evening classes, he was training under Siddharth Singh (CEO of Crosstrain Fight Club) and Gaurav Gulliya (Pro MMA fighter) and given his mental fortitude, forward movement, and his reflexes, we would train for three hours every morning with me. So we started seeing a lot of improvements in him at CFC.
After competing in a few Amateur tournaments, Roshan wanted to go pro, because that’s where the money was and he fought at SFL Delhi representing Crosstrain Fight Club and that’s where he fought Pramod Kataria and Kantharaj Agasa. After this, a fighter from SFL got him a job at Cult Fitness in Bangalore and I didn’t know that he had moved to Bangalore. Parth moved to Bangalore before Roshan and one day I met Parth and he told me that Roshan had moved to Bangalore as well.
Roshan contacted me and I started coaching him and mentoring him. It was challenging to keep him positive and focused on MMA as he wanted to leave and go back to do any job there. In 2018, he fought another season at SFL, and he wasn’t happy with the Promotion among other issues pertaining to his agreement. He needed something that was consistent and where he could train full time. Then we trained for an event in Kolkata that got scrapped three-times. That was a massive letdown because he was really banking on that money and even I personally lost money on that. We spend a lot of money going and coming from training and taking off from work. But we kept training hard and smart and looking for opportunities and then we got an email about trying out for ONE EVOLVE MMA fight team. I received an email from Conan Altatis of Conan Daily. He is from the Philippines and he reports for MMA and is also an actor and is a big fan of Roshan. We found out about EVOLVE MMA tryouts with just a month left for the entries. Three weeks before the tryouts, we got a reply from EVOLVE MMA gym and two days after that we got Roshan’s promo video sent to them. We kept training and they let him come and about 700 to 1000 people applied for it and just 30 fighters were called for this. There were BJJ gold medalists and professional fighters as well applying for this, but out of 30, Roshan was one of the fighters selected to be in the final 6. Roshan didn’t have any words and he called me and he was almost crying and it was the happiest moment of his life and mine.
Roshan is currently signed with ONE Championship and last fought against Khon Sichan of Cambodia atONE Championship: Masters of Fate last year and defeated him via an Americana.