Cricket and football may be the most popular sports in India, but Mixed Martial Arts (or MMA) is climbing up the ladder at a very rapid pace.
Still very much in its infant years in the country, MMA has grown sharply in a short space of time, establishing a solid foundation in the Indian sporting scene. The sport attracted over 100 million viewers back in 2018, and has maintained that upward trajectory in subsequent years.
India’s blossoming love affair with the sport has not come as a major surprise. Combat sports like wrestling and boxing have always had great following in the country, but MMA takes these sports to a brand new level with its dynamism and diversity.
What does MMA comprise of?
By combining skills and techniques from sports such as wrestling, boxing, taekwondo, Muay Thai, judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the multi-faceted MMA has captured the fascination of the Indian audience, and is definitely here to stay.
More Indians are now taking up MMA, while those who do not have fighting talents get involved in many other ways. Spectators throng fight venues during fight nights, while others follow the sport on TV or via the internet.
There has also been an increase in online MMA betting in India, with many fans looking to convert their MMA knowledge and followership into Rupees! Most betting sites in India now include MMA in their sportsbook, allowing fans to wager on local and international fights.
Given India’s massive population and economic growth, the country has been the target of global MMA organizations and promoters, who understand the huge financial potential in the country.
In 2017, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the biggest MMA organization in the world, signed up Bharat Kandare to become the first Indian-born fighter on its star-studded line-up. The UFC also recently signed a contract extension with Sony Pictures India, ensuring that Indians will be able to watch Conor McGregor and other UFC heavyweights on the network until at least 2023.
Other top organizations like the ONE Championship and Invicta FC have featured Indian fighters, further expanding the popularity of sport in the country. Celebrity involvement has also helped, with Bollywood stars, Parvin Dabas and Tiger Shroff playing active roles in the advancement of MMA in India.
Also Read: Ritu Phogat: The new face of Indian MMA
The last few years have seen a flurry of local MMA events in India, including the Super Fight League, which has produced most of the country’s top talents. Other notable meets in the country include the Kumite 1 League, Matrix Fight Night, Underground Fight Nights and the X1 International Women’s Fight Night.
There has also been an increase in the number of gyms and fight clubs offering fight training to both aspiring and professional fighters.
MMA’s future in India
While MMA has been on the rise in India, the sport is not without its obstacles. Some people still consider it a violent sport, with parents often reluctant to allow their children, especially females, take up mixed martial arts. Because MMA doesn’t generate enough money locally, a lot of Indian fighters are financially-handicapped. They do not make enough money from their fights, and cannot afford world-class training facilities.
MMA is still very much work-in-progress in India. The foundations have already been set, and as the level of exposure increases and more corporate bodies pump in money to support the sport, it shouldn’t be too long before it gets into the top order of popular sports in India.