Even as Indian wrestlers reel under the shock of the sport having been dropped from the 2020 Olympics, here’s some good news.
People behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship — touted to be the world’s premier mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation — believe Indian wrestlers will have a lucrative alternate career option very soon. MMA is a contest between two athletes using a combination of combat disciplines including boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, judo, taekwondo, kickboxing, karate, jiu-jitsu and Thai boxing. And UFC believes India’s traditional wrestling prowess could make its fighters a force to reckon with.
“It’s great to have talent and national heroes and that’s what we looked at while coming to India. India is a very promising and emerging market for UFC and we are looking at it very seriously. We realise that India is a predominantly cricket nation but even football is currently growing there and MMA will build too.
Wrestling is big in India. It has got a very strong culture and tradition,” said Gary Cook, managing director and executive vice-president Europe, Middle East and Africa, during the open workout session ahead of Saturday’s UFC event at the Ericsson Globe Arena here.
Ilir Latifi who will make his UFC debut on Saturday, started off as a wrestler. Latifi has been called on to replace light heavyweight fighter and local boy Alexander ‘The Mauler’ Gustafsson after the latter suffered a cut above his left eye and was ruled out of Saturday’s feature fight against Gegard Mousasi. “I believe if you have a good wrestling base, it facilitates the transition to being a MMA fighter. I started Greco-Roman wrestling when I was six years old. The training a wrestler undergoes, the physical stress, the strain is all equal, if not more, when compared to MMA. I know India has a lot of wresters, including some Olympic medal winners, and MMA and the UFC is a great career option for them,” Latifi said on the sidelines of the open workout session.
Iranian lightweight fighter Reza ‘Mad Dog’ Madadi felt Indian wrestlers are very passionate about their sport and that is what could bring them success.
“Indian wrestlers have a huge opportunity with the UFC coming to India. UFC fighters come from different backgrounds, but those coming in from the wrestling world enjoy better success. Indian wrestlers have a very good heart. They are very hardworking and passionate guys. I am sure they will succeed in UFC,” said Reza.
Finally, Mousasi felt that even boxing is a good start-up to MMA. “I began as a boxer and then took to MMA. India does have a good boxing structure too, so I think they will do well here,” he said.
Rake in the moolah
While wrestlers in India earn hardly anything from their craft, UFC fighters rake in some big moolah.
It is learnt that the normal contracts doled out to start-up UFC fighters range from anything between 8,000 USD to 10,000 USD per fight.
And this is just the show-up amount to turn up for the encounter.
The winner earns double as he gets an additional amount which is equal to the show-up amount.
Some of the top UFC fighters reportedly earn anywhere between USD 1,00,000 to USD 1 million per fight.