Two street fighters look to take India to the world
In their youths, Pawan Mann and Anshul Jubli both had run-ins with the police because of their inclination to get into fistfights. This month, one of them could become just the second Indian citizen to get into the UFC.
Pawan Mann Singh and Anshul Jubli are two Indian fighters who will feature in 'Road to UFC', a unique Asian qualification pathway to the world's biggest mixed martial arts competition.
"Indians love to watch blood and gore and MMA has a lot of that. If one of us makes it, the sport will get a fillip in the country," said the 31-year-old Pawan.
"It is going to be historic. If one of us wins, there will be a new wave of MMA fighters from India," said the 27-year-old Anshul, who is known as the future of Indian MMA.
The two took up fighting for different reasons in their childhood, but that way of life has now brought them both to this common point.
A boxer and a fighter by his trade
The path for Pawan, a living legend of Indian MMA, began in the streets of Delhi, where he was notorious in 'road fights' as someone who would not give an inch.
"I was never any good at studies. I used to get into a lot of road fights. One day, the police caught a group of 5-6 of us after a fight and beat us mercilessly. That is when my family decided that it would be better if I could channel my love for combat more productively," he said.
He was enrolled into a boxing academy in Delhi, but despite training to be an Olympic athlete with full focus, his sports career seemed to be going nowhere. Politics around selections, withholding of prize money and being coached in boxing by a hockey coach are some of the problems he faced. He thought he would be among the countless Indians who have to quit sports for these problems.
Till he entered the MMA ring.
The 'Don' who doesn't fight for free any more
For Anshul, the desire to be the 'Don of the school' was what started his love for combat.
"I used to fight bigger boys all the time, I wanted to prove to the whole school that I was the baddest (laughs). But that was not the right way, my friends from those times are not doing very well in life right now," he said.
Anshul now realizes that the urge to assert his masculinity is what made him get into street fights in his younger days, but it is the life that he carved out for himself through such a lifestyle - he too mentions a serious 'police case' that shook him up - that has led him to this point.
"I still fight, but not for free any more," he said.
Bharat Khandare became the first Indian-trained athlete to bag a contract with UFC back when the previous edition of 'Road to UFC' was held in 2017, but his career in the world's greatest MMA promotion was derailed when he was banned from the sport for testing positive for prohibited substances.
Five years later, Pawan Mann Singh and Anshul Jubli have the chance to fly the tricolour in the octagon.
Road to UFC Episodes 1-4, which will feature the two Indians, will be shown on the Sony Sports network on June 9 and June 10 at 12 pm and 3 pm IST.