WHEN INDIAN-CANADIAN MIXED MARTIAL ARTIST Gurdarshan Singh Mangat, fondly called the 'Saint Lion' by his fans, joined ONE, it was considered one of the most consequential transfers in the history of Indian MMA.
Mangat (15-2) has previously made his presence felt in BRAVE (few can forget his fight with Abdul Muneer for bragging rights as the 'Best Indian MMA Fighter', a rivalry incidentally triggered by a TFG poll) as well as Super Fight League. But joining ONE Championship meant he was scaling up to world class competition, and the conversation in the MMA fan communities was how far he could go in in the ONE Flyweight division (135 lb, 61.2 kg), which includes world class fighters like Adriano Moraes, Kairat Akhmetov, Tatsumitsu Wada and a global superstar in former UFC champion Dimitrius Johnson; somebody he has trained with extensively.
Two bouts and two sensational victories later, Mangat has not only proven that he belongs in the division, but also sparked conversation about him making a potential title run; something Gurdarshan himself further fuelled claiming he wanted to be the "first Indian world champion" in MMA.
With a deep division stretched out in front of him, and a Flyweight Grand Prix occupying the spotlight and possibly the next couple of title shots, Mangat has a long ladder to climb, but also a lot of room to take his time to do it right. Speaking to TFG for this exclusive interview, he appeared to be preparing for just that.
TFG: You are now in a promotion that has a global footprint. Does it feel different to be fighting in ONE?
Gurdarshan Mangat: Yes it does. I didn't think it would feel as different as it does . There is this real honour and prestige I find fight for them . The amount of people my fights are reaching on a global level and the response I get from my people around the world , i had never seen it at this scale. I wasn't sure who was seeing my fights or what my vision was of representing my people in big organizations but now i am in the biggest one and I see how big this is all becoming and am truly grateful I signed with ONE cause its being represented the right way.
TFG: Abrou Fernandes came in with an impressive record with back to back finishes. Was the training camp different for this challenge?
Gurdarshan Mangat: The training camps always have the same formula. Relentless hours of hardwork and sacrifice. When i sign these contracts to fight, I believe that the opponent has everything to beat me and now i must do everything in my power to reverse that before the day of the event. I am my biggest critic and support, there is many days of ups and downs , fighting thru a lot of adversity and i put myself in a lot of uncomfortable situations to grow. I isolated myself once again in Las Vegas. Thanks to my brother , Indian comedian Russell Peters , who allows me to use his home as a place for me to setup camp.
TFG: Your kicking game has improved manifolds, and it was on full display in this fight. Could you tell us about the training routine behind it?
Gurdarshan Mangat: There isn't really a training routine behind it. I came into MMA with no background in any martial art, and i have always trained with the mindset to be a full mixed martial artist. There is many tools I have that can work and when i need them , i use them. For this fight and last fight , it was my kicking game but that is far from everything I am . I train all aspects and I am always ready for the fight goes .
TFG: You have now fought twice in the last 4 months. Is this a campaign for a title shot that you are building up?
Gurdarshan Mangat: I am just enjoying this ride . I hadn't enjoyed fighting in a very long time . The amount of time I was putting in , sacrifices, adversity , etc didn't seem to add up . The politics of MMA didn't set well with me but now I have this new found pure love for competing and representing because of ONE. I am eager to feel those lights again and know my people from all over the world are tuned in and ready to share the next victory with me. When the title comes, it comes but for me every fight feels like a title fight cause the barriers I am breaking on the stage I am , have not been done before by an Indian fighter . I am just trying to put belief in the hearts of my people one fight at a time that we have the strength to become whatever we want to. Titles, victories will be whatever in the end , its the last lessons and impact I can leave that counts the most for me. What I have started that goes far beyond mixed martial arts. That is what keeps me going and telling my story from such a honest place by talking from the heart.
TFG: We have heard ONE is expanding in many emerging markets in Asia, India being a major one. What role do you hope to play in that? Are you interested in participating in ONE's first event in India?
Gurdarshan Mangat: I hope to be the main event on it, possibly that will be the title shot you ask of. It will be the most historic night in MMA. I visualize all the stars of India, from Bollywood to sports stars, to be sitting front row. Just like how during my last fight, India woke up to the fact that cricket isn't the only sport we are good at. I hope to be an ambassador inside the cage and outside for the Indian Market. Its an honour to represent it and speak on behalf of it.
TFG: Two impressive victories in ONE back to back, you are on a 5 fight winning streak. What kind of opponent do you want next? Do you have someone particular in mind?
Gurdarshan Mangat: I have nobody in particular, I am just trying to enjoy this as much as possible, absorb the pressure and convert it into strength. Represent the sport and my people and the great organization of ONE. I don't think my people care who I face, as long as they see me in there competing. And thats more than enough for me.
In a manner that befits the 'Saint Lion', Mangat made a strong case to present himself as one of the faces of the promotion, as well as announce his candidacy for a future title shot, without taking potshots at any potential opponent.
Mangat seems to be well aware that he is just a couple of wins away from being considered for a title shot, and there's a chance the one holding the gold belt on the other end could be Dimitrius Johnson. And it takes something spectacular to prove oneself worthy of entering the ring with a legend of Johnson's stature.
It will be interesting to see who he faces next, and how soon.