Recently, mixed martial arts has reached new levels of popularity in India. In particular, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has established itself as the country’s most popular promotion, according to The Hindu. However, despite this trend, Indian competitors have yet to reach the sport’s pinnacle. So, let’s take a look at India’s long-term UFC aspirations.
The Country’s UFC Admiration
Although numerous factors contribute to India’s lack of UFC representatives, the country’s widespread perception of MMA undoubtedly has an impact. As per a report by Cageside Press, while the sport is legal in the South Asian country, it’s not yet recognized in the same way as cricket, for example. That said, India has seen a gradual increase in its UFC competitors throughout the last five years.
However, despite this, establishing itself in the first-ever major MMA promotion has yet to follow. Arjan Bhullar, a Canadian nationalized Indian, won three of his four heavyweight bouts with the UFC, before opting to sign for ONE Championship.
In 2016, the organization signed Bharat Khandare, who become the first Indian-born fighter to compete in the UFC. Unfortunately for the 31-year-old athlete, his top-level career hasn’t yet gone to plan. His opening fight saw him suffer a first-round defeat to China’s Yadong Song, before he later received a two-year ban from the Octagon for performance-enhancing violations in November 2017.
Intriguingly, with his ban soon due to end, the bantamweight fighter will likely be keeping an eye on the division’s outlook. The bout between Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera, in particular, will impact future matchmaking within the 135-pound weight class. As of July 30th, Sugar Sean is the –294 favorite to win the bout according to Royal Panda’s sports betting odds for players in India.
An Array of Upcoming Talents
After a troubled start in India’s pursuit of UFC gold, the country’s next generation of talent could deliver championship belts. As the sport’s popularity continues to grow, the appeal of MMA reaches new audiences. This is evident from a report by MMA India, which labels the combat activity as India’s fastest-growing sport.
Of the up-and-coming competitors, Kantharaj Agasa is being tipped for greatness over the next few years. At the time of writing, the Indian Combat Sports Academy fighter boasts a record consisting of 11 wins and two defeats. Unlike other local competitors, the featherweight’s fight-ending abilities are likely to attract the interests of organizations like the UFC and Bellator.
Throughout his professional career, five of his victories have come in the first round. Moreover, four of these have come by way of submission. World-renowned promotions target specialist fighters who bring a specific skill set to the cage and Agasa’s record will tick a lot of boxes. As well as his eye-catching capabilities, because of his Indian roots, signing him would enable the UFC to explore an emerging market.
While, of course, there are no guarantees that India’s next generation of fighters will become UFC champions, the country’s MMA growth provides a starting point for future success. The Super Fight League, for example, which is co-owned by Amir Khan, gives a platform to Indian fighters for MMA participation. The purpose of the organization is to heighten the combat sport’s local appeal, as well as inspiring increased competition.
The Foundations to Achieve Success
Ultimately, India is taking steps towards realizing its UFC dream. Although finding a future champion won’t happen overnight, the South Asian country continues to strive to establish itself in the world’s leading MMA organization. In recent years, both Nigeria and Russia have seen their first UFC champions crowned. In turn, this means that patience is part of the process, and there’s nothing to say that India won’t reach the sport’s pinnacle in the future.