I wanted to headline this article “My obsession with MMA”, but that somehow sounded negative. So how obsessed am I with MMA? Well, I start my day by typing the letters UFC into the Google search engine and checking the latest news (For the uninitiated, MMA is mixed martial arts and UFC stands for “Ultimate Fighting Championship”- the premier mixed martial arts promotion in the world). After that I open my eyes properly and start getting ready for gym. That’s something. I mean I am already feeling like I can be judged on this statement. In fact on rereading it, I am judging myself. If UFC was a cute boy, it would be downright creepy. You get it.
Let me talk about the origin of this obsession, how it all began. In 2015, sometime before her fight with Holly Holm, I heard about Ronda Rousey. She was at the peak of her powers then. I don’t remember where or from whom I heard about her, but I was quickly fascinated. I didn’t know anything about MMA, but a female fighter who was undefeated and was known to finish her opponents in under a minute..I was all ears. And eyes. I started reading about her and it started dawning on me how big a legend she was. She was the reigning bantamweight MMA queen who was quickly becoming Hollywood’s darling. I bought into all the hype around her and was eagerly awaiting her fight with Holly just to know how fast she would be dispatching her. The morning of her fight (India time it’s morning), I eagerly checked the results of the fight on the internet and was shocked to read that she lost. I was eager for the result to know how fast it finished, not to know who won. That seemed to be a foregone conclusion but boy! was I wrong.
As you can see, I got introduced to MMA at a very exciting time for women’s division. Ronda got head kicked. Holly became the new champion and there was nonstop coverage of this surprising result. Initially, I just liked reading about the women’s bantamweight division- about the prominent fighters, future opportunities for Holly and the like. Then slowly I also started reading about the strawweight division which had a rapidly rising Joanna Jedrzejczyk as the champion and this “hot” new thing Paige Vanzant. I eagerly followed the news about new fights being set, new challengers emerging and just generally all things women’s MMA.
All this while, I wasn’t interested in men’s MMA. I didn’t know about the divisions, the fighters, the champions of the various divisions. Nothing. It all changed with UFC 196. I was interested in the event because it was Holly Holm’s first title defence. I was looking forward to a dominant win for her. I mean she beat an undefeated beast of a champion so comprehensively, what was there to doubt? (FYI I was wrong again. Holly got beat) The same card, the other big news was that Nate Diaz submitted Conor Mcgregor. Now I must admit, I had no clue who Nate was or who Conor was when the card happened. But the media coverage of the fight was just as extensive as that of the Rousey-Holm fight. It made me look at the men’s division and why this result was such a big deal. This Nate Diaz victory was my entry point to men’s MMA. Gradually I started following more fighters and then more divisions. Now I can say that I have a working knowledge of all the eight men’s divisions- the champions, the challengers, interesting match ups and the comparatively recent phenomenon of money fights.
I also got an opportunity to follow this new-found interest in MMA in my own life. A new MMA gym opened near the flat I lived in, in Bangalore. I was a regular at a regular gym at that time. I wanted to get my basic fitness up before I joined the MMA gym. I kept the bar of basic fitness as doing pull ups. Let me just say I never achieved that bar before the pull to join the MMA gym became too much. So I went ahead and enrolled in the MMA class. I learnt kickboxing and jiu jitsu at the gym for three months. I liked boxing but I fell truly, deeply, madly in love with jiu jitsu. After I got over the momentary hesitation of learning a close combat sport, I was all in. It made me feel powerful and continuously pushed me to test my boundaries – against stronger male opponents, no less. I was hesitant at first but my trainers ingrained in me that in jiu jitsu, unlike boxing, size did not matter. Only skill mattered. You could use an opponent’s weight and power against him if you are skilled enough.
I digressed. I will get back. I have explained the origins of my interest in MMA- women’s MMA followed by men’s MMA. It is one of those rare sports where women command as much limelight as the men, sometimes even more. Rousey in her prime was a bigger star than most men. I find that extremely commendable. I was attracted to this strong female sportswoman who was dominating her sport like no other. The attention she drew to the sport led me to explore the sport more and have a deeper relationship with it.
One woman changed the landscape of MMA forever.
*This article was written on 10th February’17.