Hyderabad: Popularising a bloodsport in which combatants literally knock each other’s teeth out, with blood also often ‘decorating’ the floor, does not sound like an easy task. And the challenge in India to draw more youth into the game is manifold, especially given that it is a country where cricket is almost like religion for many.
However, nothing could deter Hyderabad’s Sheikh Khalid from making the city a centre of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). From 2013 till 2021, after his club took off, Shaik Khalid created about 50 national level medalists and five international level medalists, including his prodigy Mohammed Mahboob Khan.
Khan came from humble beginnings and went on to become the first-ever and only Indian to become a world champion in the sport, all thanks to Khalid. Since its inception almost 30 years ago via the American MMA promotion company Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport has been at the end of severe criticism for its bloody bone-breaking ‘human cockfights’.
Nevertheless, it has managed to become the fastest-growing sport that continues to evolve even today. It is a full-contact combat sport that involves striking and grappling. The most popular platforms for MMA are UFC and One Championship. MMA took off in India when the “Super Fight League” was launched in 2012 by Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt and businessman Raj Kundra.
Two Bollywood movies “Sultan” starring Salman Khan and “Brothers” starring Akshay Kumar and Sidharth Malhotra also promoted the sport.
The Super Fight League of 2013 was a turning point for MMA in Hyderabad, as four students of Shaik Khalid – Bilal, Ghouse, Kurshid and Amer – were contenders in the big league and made the news. In the same year, Khalid’s gym at Chaderghat, called ‘Hyderabad Muay Thai club’, was also transformed to ‘Hyderabad MMA Gym.’
When the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana happened in 2014, it was the right time for the veteran Martial artist to establish the Telangana Association of Mixed Martial Arts (TAMMA) and officially lay the foundation of the sport in the city of Nawabs.
“Ever since MMA started gaining popularity a decade ago, different coaches of Karate, Muay Thai and Kung Fu started using the name of the sport to promote their own clubs and traditional martial arts, and never taught desperate disciples the real MMA,” Khalid told Siasat.com in an interview.
He added that they had students who said they spend years learning so-called ‘MMA’, but when they asked to demonstrate something, it was anything but MMA. “All they did was practise one type of martial art. They had no idea about the complexities of MMA,” Shaik Khalid remarked.
Mahboob Khan used to be a bodybuilder who worked in a clothing shop and used to drive a taxi. He told siasat.com that in 2016 his friend introduced him to Khalid and they subsequently went to watch a state championship. “I got interested in the sport and joined… I never thought I would participate in tournaments but as we trained I gained more confidence and later…sir made me play nationals,” he said.
There was a point when Mahboob said he was not getting enough time to train, and as Sheik Khalid saw potential in him, he asked him if Mahboob would quit his jobs and stay with him. “He also offered to give me a salary,” Mahboob said. He now has three straw-weight and four flyweight National gold medals, one international gold medal and has been the five-time fight-night (semi-pro) champion.
Khurshid Mohiuddin, another student of Shaik Khalid, is now an MMA trainer at an official UFC gym in Chicago, USA.
Sheik Khalid started wrestling in 2000, learn karate in 2002, mastered and participated in Muay Thai and full-contact Kickboxing by 2006. Furthermore, he said, “When MMA started growing in India, we were able to invite foreign coaches to the club to teach us MMA… our students also learned a lot as they participated in big competitions.”
As of now, Sheik Khalid who is now the team India coach said that Hyderabad is leading the way in MMA for the whole country as TAMMA organizes four to five national and state-level events per year. His gym now has four branches in Chaderghat, Malakpet, Tarnaka and A S Rao Nagar. He has trained about 2000 fighters.
Rules of engagement in MMA:
- No groin attacks.
- No knees to the head on a grounded opponent.
- No strikes to the back of the head or the spine.
- No head butts.
- No eye gouging.
- No fish hooking.
- No fingers in an opponent’s orifices.
- No biting.
- No hair pulling.
- No strikes or grabbing of the throat.
- No manipulation of the fingers or toes.
- No intentional grabbing of the ring or cage.
- No intentional throwing of your opponent outside of the ring or cage.
The greatest MMA champion of all time is Khabib Nurmagomedov from Dagestan, Russia who holds an undefeated record of 29 professional wins in 29 matches. MMA has also been criticised for being too violent. However, fans and fighters alike have defended the sport and said that it instils multiple skills in a practitioner, gives a broader perspective of life and is one’s own way to express oneself.
Dana White, the owner of UFC said that boxing and American football have more chances of causing brain damage and ending one’s life than MMA.