Humans are believed to have arrived in India as many as 73,000 years ago. Several civilizations began emerging in the area as early as 4,500 BCE. With as rich and illustrious as a history that the country has, it still remains a mystery to many in the West. And while sports such as cricket and soccer became popular after British occupation, mixed martial arts may seem equally as mysterious to the vast majority of Indian people.
Even though the Super Fight League, an Indian mixed martial arts promotion partially owned by British boxer Amir Khan, began in 2015, MMA is not currently recognized as a sport by the Indian government. MMA is not technically illegal, but fighters do not receive the same benefits as other athletes in the country. I spoke with Sidharth Singh Dhami, a 4-0 amateur fighter and student from Dehradun, India, about his path to MMA, and the current state of mixed martial arts on the subcontinent.
Can you describe the area where you grew up? What were the opportunities like for training/fighting? What go you into fighting?
I spent my childhood in a small town called Dharchula, in the state of Uttarakhand, India. Growing up, I used to watch movies based on martial arts and action, mostly starring Jackie Chan. I was crazy about him, crazy about his fighting. So, I ended up joining a Taekwondo club. There was not much opportunity for training where I lived, but somehow I found a place where I could train Taekwondo.
How would you describe the MMA scene in India? What do you think are its biggest strengths? What are its biggest weaknesses?
For a cricket-crazy country like ours, MMA might be a little late on the scene, but it seems like it is quickly making up for lost ground. Our strength is that we’ve had many warriors in our past, we’ve got fighting in our genes. We love fighting, for years we’ve had big names in combat sports like boxing and wrestling. Now, it’s time for MMA. The weakness is that not many people know about the sport in our country, they prefer to call it boxing or karate.
How about MMA fans in India? Is it a popular sport? Could you describe the typical fan?
There are mixed martial arts fans in India because of big names like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. People don’t know that much about MMA, but they do know what the UFC is. Due to our country’s huge population and diversity, you can find anything and everything here. India has many good fighters, but I think they need to get more technical in their skills. Otherwise, a typical Indian fan might think “Man, even I can do this, let me get in the cage.”
What’s a typical week like for you? How often are you training and what do you typically train and when?
There is not much of a typical week for me. I am also a student, so I have school responsibilities and homework on top of going to the gym for training. I train almost everyday, usually twice a day. Generally, we spend one day focusing only on ground work and grappling and the next day we focus on standup skills like boxing and kickboxing.
Where are you training? Are there any notable fighters training there?
I train in my city of Dehradun. There is a professional fighter here, Angad Bisht (4-1-0 as a professional and the #14th ranked Bantamweight in South Asia), who is my coach. He is from a small town called Rudraprayag.
What do you like most about fighting? What do you feel is your biggest strength?
For me, it’s not about fighting, it’s about the process in which I am preparing for the fight. The time I put in training in the gym, it’s like I don’t have to think, I can just feel. It’s my consistency. I work hard with consistency until I get what I am striving for.
What is your record? What was it like the first time that you stepped into the cage? What was going through your mind?
I am an amateur fighter with a record of 4-0. Before my first time in the cage, I was actually really excited! In my mind, I was thinking “Go in there and give the performance of your life!”
Obviously, your long-term goal is to become a world champion. What are your short-term goals? What are you doing to help you get there?
Yeah man, it’s a long journey to become a world champion, but for now I just want to focus on my training, and I want to get better everyday. I am training with my coach and my team, and I am working to improve on my mistakes.
In 20 years when you’re looking back on your career, what would you have had to accomplish in order to think of it as a success? Why?
Twenty years, man that’s too much time! But, still if I had to think about it, I’d say that I would have to be continuing my work and continuing my understanding of martial arts. A person can learn martial arts anywhere, but truly understanding martial arts is not that easy. I want to be an understander of the true philosophies of martial arts and to understand them as deeply as possible.
Do you have anything that you’d like to plug? Do you have any upcoming fights? Would you like to shout-out your school/coaches?
I would like to say to just enjoy your life, guys. There are too many things out there for you to enjoy. Currently, I am just training, and there are no upcoming fights for me. I am thankful for my coach, Angad Bisht, and I am thankful for my team for the help, training and support.