Super Fight League's fighters are using combat to battle their inner demons
The Super Fight League that's on your TV screens right now is full of fighters who are using combat to fight their inner demons
Mixed Martial Arts fighter Jason Ramesh Solomon realised that he needed to turn his life around when he went to jail for the third time. Then in his 20s, Solomon had been arrested for possession of narcotics in California, and was sentenced to six months in jail in an American prison. "Here I was, a privileged upper middle class brat from Delhi, who was now rotting in jail. It finally made me re-look at my life."
Jason Ramesh Solomon
The Delhi resident had shifted to the US in 2001 to pursue a basketball career that came crashing down when he broke his wrist during a game. Disappointment turned into frustration and anger, which found release in marijuana, cocaine and MDMA. But, after jail time, Solomon knew he had to figure better ways of coping with his situation. "So, I came back to Delhi, and started learning martial arts to dispel my negativity in a constructive way." He decided to start learning combat sports and trained in MMA extensively.
He is now the captain of the team Delhi Heroes at the Super Fight League, matches of which are now being broadcast on MTV and Voot. "I am the arrogant guy, the one who loves the ladies, the one who is cool but also could be an as*****. It's a flamboyant version of me. You can hate or love me, but you can't ignore me. It has turned me from a criminal to a star." The teams are full of fighters like Solomon - people who have turned to mixed martial arts as a channel for their aggression and a path where they can find peace. All participants were selected through a nationwide competition in 2017, and now the league boasts of 96 players across eight teams: Mumbai Maniacs, Haryana Warriors, Delhi Heroes, Gujarat Warriors, UP Nawabs, Sher-E-Punjab, Tamil Veerans and Bengaluru Tigers. The format is of one-on-one combat, and the league is also the first one to feature female contestants.
One such female fighter is a 24-year-old from Delhi, Shikha Chauhan. Chauhan suffers from joint hypermobility i.e. her joints can move beyond the normal range expected for that particular joint. It could seem like a cool thing, but it's not. "It meant I couldn't run or walk, and I would fall a lot. I was often called langdi and laughed at all the time." But Chauhan had a hero to look up to - actor Akshay Kumar - and always wanted to get into "action". "My parents refused to pay for classes, so I took tuitions, and saved up all that money. Eventually, I found a trainer."
After she convinced the trainer to train her for half his fees, she trained every single day. "I started building my muscles and MMA worked as physiotherapy. It made me stronger, and I could fight, despite my condition."
She uses the fight to get rid of all the hate and aggression she felt for her tormentors. "When I am fighting, I can see all those people who made fun of me, and I get more aggressive. It's a great way to just get it out." Chauhan's father, who lives and works in Uttar Pradesh, still doesn't know his daughter is fighting on TV.
"Usually, I am in my room when he comes. He came over last week for a day, when I was away in Mumbai fighting, but thankfully, didn't notice I wasn't there. My first plan of action moving ahead is to tell him the news, and tell him that he can be proud of me," says the West Delhi resident who is fighting for Haryana Sultans.
MMA could be the natural choice for a sport as far as Indians go. It's a land of kushti, and the north of India is full of akhadas, where many wrestlers are born. Movies like Sultan and Dangal have proved that the popularity of the sport reaches all corners of the country. "That's one of the reasons we decided to launch the league here, as all the core fundamentals are present," says British businessman and philanthropist Bill Dosanjh, who in 2013 decided to launch the programme. "We have become the second most watched sport digitally. Action is built into Indians, and they want to watch two gladiators fight it out." MMA is a full-contact sport that allows both striking and grappling, both standing and on the ground. The bouts are 15 minutes long, with five-minute rounds.
Dosanjh agrees that the best part about the league is its many fighters, most of them from humble backgrounds, who have managed to carve a glamorous and fulfilling career for themselves. Much like Dhruv Chaudhary from Meerut, who has had a rough childhood. He saw his father being murdered by his own family members when he was eight years old, and then he was raised by his mother, an LIC agent. "I started learning all sorts of combat early on - Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, MMA - I had made up my mind to fight." He seems to be on his way. Along with being the captain of the Bengaluru Tigers, he has also found a mentor in actor Tiger Shroff, who got him a role in the upcoming film, Baaghi 2. "I want fame, and so I am getting that. What it [the league] has done is give all of us of a renewed passion for life."
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