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The booming economy plus a tradition of combat sports mean India is emerging as the theatre for MMA's latest expansion. It's a hot Saturday night, and Famous Studios in Mumbai's sea-facing Worli neighbourhood is buzzing with energy. As young men and women, expats and Indians alike, line up to get into the massive retrofitted garage, you can hear cheering punctured with thumping house music. Cameras are trained on a cage in the centre. Mixed martial arts fighters get in and battle it out, hungry to win. It's a hunger that's only growing. These Underground Fight Nights, promoted by a firm called Pyna Experiences, just kicked off in Mumbai in March. But the contests are among a growing number of fight nights cropping up across India as the MMA industry targets the world's fastest-growing major economy and second-most populous nation to fuel its expansion. Himanshu Kaushik of MMA (Source: One Championship) On June 29, New Delhi played host to the second Matrix Fight Night, with thousands in attendance for seven pro and four amateur bouts. It was founded by Bollywood actor Tiger Shroff, a martial arts enthusiast, and his sister Krishna, only a few months ago. In December 2018, Brave Combat Federation, the Middle East's biggest MMA promotion, made its India debut with the Brave 20 Fight Night, held in the city of Hyderabad. The cities of Pune, Mysore and Bengaluru and the northeastern state of Nagaland have also seen several major events emerge on their sporting calendars.
Other international MMA promoters are scrambling to grab the India market too. Singapore-based ONE Championship has announced plans to enter India next year. Then there's the Kumite 1 League, set up in 2017 and helmed by Mohamedali Budhwani of Toyam Industries, which is supported and mentored by Mike Tyson. Kumite is launching K1L Warrior Hunt in August as a reality show, where fighters across 10 weight categories will be named winners and trained over the next five years as future MMA stars. The first season of Super Fight League — promoted by British entrepreneur Bill Dosanjh and two-time world champion boxer Amir Khan — in 2017 drew 100 million viewers on Sony Pictures Network India's sports channel. https://youtu.be/y5HRcCCXMJU Media houses are betting that the nascent love for MMA will spread. SonyLIV, a general entertainment channel, is now airing UFC fights, while Rupert Murdoch's Star Network has signed a contract with ONE Championship for both TV and digital streaming on Hotstar, a streaming platform. Bollywood actor and MMA influencer Parvin Dabas, who owns MMAIndia.com and hosts The MMA India Show on SonyLIV, notes that from zero followers three years ago, his show now has 120,000 Facebook followers and more than 70,000 website views every month. The All India MMA Federation, the sport's top authority in the country, says the audience for mixed martial arts in India is predominantly citizens aged 18 to 35. "MMA is the fastest-growing sport in India, and indeed the world, and one of the few sports that offer a fully-fledged career," says Ajit Sigamani, India treasurer of the IMMAF-WMMAA, the sport's international governing body. "In India, viewership and interest is tremendous. Indians love a good fight." In many ways, this explosion of excitement is only natural. Globally, MMA is already the third most popular sport, after soccer and basketball, with more than 400 million people interested in it, according to Nielsen Sports DNA. And India — its giant population and booming economy aside — has a long history of combat sports. Though it has a poor overall record in international sports, India is a regular medal contender at the Olympics in boxing and wrestling. Now, high-profile national stars across various combat disciplines such as Ritu Phogat — a 2016 Commonwealth Games gold medalist wrestler — and Himanshu Kaushik — seven times national wushu champion — have moved to MMA. The mixed aspect of MMA lends Indian fighters some advantages and distinct disadvantages, says Kaushik. "We're good to attack or strike because of wushu and kickboxing training, as well as wrestling, but we struggle tremendously with grappling," he says. "This is why we need to train abroad, to raise our skill level." (This article was originally published on www.ozy.com. To Read the full article click here)