Power Grab And Politics: How Indian MMA Is Battling With Existential Crisis

Ask any promoter of a major MMA organization about coming up with a successful business model, and they would tell you the same thing. The key to establishing a successful promotion is to find the right formula for the market, and to do it before anyone else figures it out. PRIDE FC thrived on its ability to put on ‘freak-show fights’, giving the Asian populace a taste of the wild, enthralling fights that made boxing one of the most popular sports in North America. The Ultimate Fighting Championship had to endure a decade of side-eyed reception, before they stumbled upon a formula that worked for them.

Over the past two decades, most of the developed countries had not only embraced the sport of mixed martial arts, but took preemptive actions to regulate and govern the sport. With the likes of Bellator MMA, ONE Championship and PFL expanding their reach, most of the countries started establishing their own local governing bodies to sanction events, and to work toward a common goal — to make MMA an Olympic sport.

However, not all intentions are good, and not everything goes according to the plan. India, for instance, was supposed to welcome the UFC back in 2014. Sony Network had signed a multi-year deal in 2012, which saw the then UFC champions Benson Henderson and Rich Franklin pose in front of wide-eyed media. Still confused with WWE Superstars, the two gladiators were bombarded with questions about the nitty-gritties of the sport. UFC, certain of their ambitions, then announced that they were planning on doing a TUF India edition.

Five years have passed by, and those plans have remained a forlorn dream. For the UFC — or any MMA promotion for that matter — to come to India, they have to work with the local sanctioning body. Unlike China, which has a governing body for combat sports, the Indian government has no effective oversight. And this was why the All India Mixed Martial Arts Association (AIMMAA) stepped in nearly 15 years ago.

Struggle For Power – How Personal Conflicts Have Rendered the Groundwork Pointless

Daniel Isaac, the founder of AIMMAA has repeated one sentence more than any other in the past. Any and every individual involved in the sport of MMA in India, at one point or the other, worked with AIMMAA. For a regulatory body that has been active for over a decade, there can be no qualms over its legitimacy, or its track record. However, personal conflicts and vendettas have rendered most of the groundwork pointless.

A simple Google search will throw up multiple personalities thumping their chests, proclaiming to be the saviours of Indian MMA. A more eagle-eyed reporter can just as easily trace their beginnings, their current involvement with multiple other organizations, and how they have manipulated the existing scenario to suit their narrative. For all the pitch-forks and torches they had brought to sling mud at the oldest governing body, they are just as eager to cover up their dirty past and present.

One explanation that has been given, is the fact that they — and only they — can maintain the integrity of the sport. Any question about their misgivings, illegal activities, or conflicts of interest will not only be met with a cold shoulder, but such individuals would be brandished as mercenaries sent to besmirch the good name of their entity.

For all the positives India provides as an untapped reservoir of talent, promotions inherently face several questions, which need to be resolved before one can dream about seeing global promotions entering the country. The All India Mixed Martial Arts Association, regardless of anyone’s subjective outtakes, has been the oldest and the most consistent regulatory body in the country. And until individuals realize that this isn’t a game of pride and perverse retaliation, the sport will continue to stagnate, slowly disappearing into the ether, putting it out of its misery for good.

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