Struggles of MMA Athletes in Pakistan

With the hope of finding the decisive fighting champion, Mix Martial arts came into been in Brazil. From brawls to fights with rules and regulations, it was changed into official sport. Around the globe, people visualize MMA as a sports but in Pakistan people don’t really know about it. They don’t consider it as a sports. Rather, they have made a perception that, it is about two people fighting brutally which might cause death. Before a fight, there is a story of both athletes who prepare themselves for it. The hardships they have to go through, are left untold. Above all, there is no proper federation which can provide athletes, a platform where they can showcase their talent and change common public perspective. Unavailability of the platforms and unawareness in Pakistan, has brought this tremendous sports to a position, where people prefer not to even watch this sports. MMA is gaining popularity across the globe, the sport’s trademark ‘madness’ is spreading at an eyebrow-raising rate in Pakistan too, where the once small MMA community is booming. But everything has a price to pay in order to set a benchmark in the society; everything you want in life has a price connected to it. Despite their surfeit of advantages, combat sports is still not considered as a respectable game and is often linked with ‘promoting’ violence.

General struggles a MMA athlete faces is his nutrition, proper training, finance and lack of fights (sports events of MMA) on international platforms. If a person wants to learn this sport, there are very few training centers in Pakistan where they can learn with professional and well-trained trainers such as in Islamabad Team Fight Fortress (TFF) provides students with best trainers for jujitsu, kick boxing grappling etc. Fight Alliance recently started tournaments with a tremendous idea for the upbringing and coaching of MMA athletes, which would create a platform for the junior athletes in addition to provision of an exposure for the professionals. Unfortunately, they could not sustain themselves in market and the basic reason was lack of awareness. People in Pakistanis are unaware of the beauty & hardships of this sports due to which no one watches or takes interest in these kind of games. MMA like many other games, is also about how much you’re physically and mentally strong enough and consistent. Athletes don’t consider it a game. They call it a lifestyle.

Becoming a fighter is not an easy job. One has to be financially stable. Because how will a fighter survive when there are no fights, and how is the fighter going to earn a living? Uloomi Karim and Ahmed Mujtaba are the first and second Pakistani MMA fighters respectively to win a championship title. There is a lot happening in the world of MMA and yet the public is unaware of the positive things. That is because Government of Pakistan is not focusing on this side of the games. The Underground Battle MMA, held in manila, Philippines, the main event and co-main event, both won by two Pakistani fighters via knock out and a submission, made these passionate and consistent fighters, the first two to win an international title in field of MMA. Despite all the achievements, a fighters’ journey is very much like a waiter or a waitress. Getting two modeling contracts in a year that doesn’t mean you’re a model, you’re still a waitress. Until and unless you generate a monthly income from your profession, you’re not considered a professional .And now they have to train students and do their studies side by side. Other

students whom include Haider Farman (The Giant), Shah Nawaz and Zeeshan Shah (TNT) are also employed in their own gym as instructors.

Being Asia’s number one Organization for training MMA athletes, their student still go through a difficult phases to train themselves mentally and physically. According to their Head coach Ehtisham Karim, the students sometimes find it difficult physically. They cannot afford to reach their limits every day, they have to attend their jobs afterwards. Whereas after losing a fight within the students and pressure from their relatives they get depressed mentally too. Every day is a struggle for these fighters considering the negative feedback and criticism from the society especially from their own family members. Their biggest hurdle and obstacle in their journey are their parents. The parents of these fighters have a very conservative mindset. They believe combat sport training leads to aggression and violence. But what they don’t understand is that, this is the only sport which can let your stress and frustration out on the punching bag.

For a MMA fighter the most important thing is their nutrition and rest. For rest, one needs time and in such situations Pakistani MMA athletes are going through a very hard time, having a very little time left to do the main thing after their training.  But they cannot due to many social and financial reasons. Some had to go to universities while others to their jobs. Some stop training themselves while others acclimate to the situation. These fighter are so focused and ambitious, for them, MMA isn’t a side interest however it is a lifestyle; it is more than a diversion. They make sure that their nutrition is proper according to their needs. Their pre meals, Liquids, after exercise lunches and dinners everything is prepared and rather than a strict schedule, for them, it is a spiritual and intellectual enlightenment.  For them, nothing is more fulfilling than the sickening punch of an uppercut which would knockout the other person, nothing is more thrilling than a conceivably deadly strangle that can force the opponent to tap out from the game.

Being a Pakistani is one of the huge hurdles of an athlete. Firstly, they only practice in gym while before their very first professional match, very few experience a friendly fight, to prepare themselves for their professional careers. Secondly, the current situation and many other factors in Pakistan has created such a history that people get their passports’ and visas’ very difficultly and the process is time consuming. Compared to neighboring countries Pakistan has difficult time process. Whereas in India people get their passports and visas easily which is making it an opportunity for them.   Moreover, there are very few people who watch MMA fights live online, only if it’s free and the question is do they make a difference? Unfortunately they don’t make any difference. However, TFF has created a reputation in Thailand, Malaysia and Bahrain because of which their students are provided opportunities in tournaments.

One might say that our culture and religion teaches us to live as one entity in the society which does not allows us to fight. However, many people learn MMA to master these techniques in kickboxing, Jiu-jitsu and grappling and many more and the only place where they are free to showcase them is the ring. And after every fight most of the fighters shake hands like a proper gentlemen, some don’t celebrate properly until the fighter is properly checked by the doctors, such perspectives are because of the lack of awareness of this sports which means that after the match when one steps outside the ring, it is finished until the next fight. There are many more tradition which the public is unaware of and has deeper meanings.

Overall, the life of a MMA athlete is very difficult in Pakistan because of the policies other countries have forged for the Pakistanis. The society and cultural differences has created this mindset because of which they are facing such difficulties. The platform and exposure is one factor that is the resistance between a person and his future career in MMA. Due which athletes have to face financial problems

And if we have fighters like these, who are willing to risk it all, put their heart and soul into it and are ready to struggle no matter what the circumstances are, then one can clearly say that MMA is here to stay and will set a benchmark in the next coming years.

Picture of Coach Ehtisham Karim and his students.

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