AS A GROWING SPORT in India, Mixed Martial Arts is slowly making its presence felt in the country's athletic landscape.
A number of Indian fighters have gone on to feature on international promotions like BRAVE, ONE and even UFC. Domestic promotions and competitions are also slowly on the rise. As a result an increasing number of youth are taking to the sport. And when they approach an MMA gym in their hometown to practice the sport or even pursue an aspiration to compete in MMA whether as an amateur or a future professional, it falls on the coaches and trainers to identify which ones have the potential to go the distance in this difficult discipline, and weed out the duds before they hurt themselves doing something they should best avoid.
Frank Mapranny, Co-founder and Director at Superhuman Gym, is also a renowned strength and conditioning coach who works with some of the most promising MMA fighters in India. Working at the very roots of the sport at a time when MMA is at a crucial crossroads in this country, he often finds himself in the role of a gatekeeper, as well as the provider of platform for the next generation of talent to develop.
Speaking to TFG, he provided a succinct picture of the work he sees cut out in front of him, he also provided insight into different aspects of an athlete's development, and signs of talent to look out for.
TFG: What are the characteristics you are looking for in a raw, untrained aspiring fighter you are seeing for the first time?
Frank: A fighter needs to have the spirit to be resilient and persistent to achieve success in this game. Quite a few Champions for instance Jose "Scarface" Aldo, Connor McGregor, Tyson Fury, Manny Pacquiao all have come from humble beginnings and it was their relentless determination that led them to their glory.
TFG: When you are taking a young prospect on for the first time, what are the first basic few things that you are trying to get right in his/her training?
Frank: Mixed Martial Arts requires skills from different contact sports like Wrestling, Boxing, Taekwondo, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and others. At first, we focus on any one of the skills combined with Strength training. Strength training forms the base of any fighter from where he can evolve into becoming more explosive, powerful and faster. At our training centre, small goals/weekly goals are the key in dividing work. In this way, we can follow a road map for each and every amateur fighters in our gym.
TFG: Usually, what age range do you like to take on a rookie fighter? Depending on that, how long does it take to get their strength and cardio up to a level where they can think about competing professionally or at an amateur organization?
Frank: I firmly believe that age is a number and anyone can achieve great things by being passionate. Strength is a very relative term and there are different forms of strength that needs to be targeted in an athlete. However, the best route is to improve one's base strength and from there move ahead. To improve base strength a fighter needs 6- 8 weeks to see a difference in Strength
TFG: Where do you find young Indian athletes lacking most in relation to global MMA standards?
Frank: We have a good pool of young dedicated and hardworking fighters. Most of them lack in Strength, Sports nutrition and adequate R&R (Rest and Recovery)
TFG: You get a number of athletes who have come from different sports, from wrestling, boxing/kickboxing to wushu. How does their approach to MMA strength and conditioning differ depending on their background sport?
Frank: Athletes come from various martial arts background. However, they all start with the same exercises for improving their base strength. Once their periodization cycle of increasing base strength is achieved, then we have certain battery of tests done to determine the next micro and mesocycle.
TFG: From your experience, can you talk about one or two fighters who have really impressed you with their zeal to improve and perform?
Frank: Bharat Kandare had got two weeks notice for his Shanghai fight in UFC. I think Bharat in that two week was very focused mentally. In that two weeks because of his commitment, we were able to get him in peak physical condition.
TFG: How much role does diet play in getting a fighter's strength and conditioning right ahead of a bout? How much are you personally involved in monitoring and/or determining an athlete's diet?
Frank: Sports nutrition is lacking in many of the fighters and getting the proper nutrition helps a fighter to improve performance. Superhuman support team take care of the athletes eating pattern and by weekly meetings to check up if they have been adhering to the nutrition plan. Moreover, I regularly stay in touch via personal meetings, con calls and whats app.
TFG: In India, money is often an issue for athletes to get proper diet and take care of themselves. Are there any methods that you have found that can help them get good results without spending too much on expensive food items and products?
Frank: I don't think money is an issue these days. The right intention and heart will get you anything in this world, we are blessed with good people that will help an athlete to achieve success. Nutrition doesn't need to be expensive. it can be affordable, the right food group and the lifestyle changes can be done. I think its the mindset of an athlete is important, the can do attitude. All you need is heart and mental fortitude.
TFG: Can you name a few basic aspects of physical conditioning that aspiring MMA fighters should focus on to make sure they attain a level of fitness that will make them competitive?
Frank: Most of the fighters that I have met and I regularly keep meeting them, tend to do a lot of things in one day. You need to keep it simple with strength training fitness at the start. To develop hip strength, compound exercises like the squats, deadlifts work wonder. For the shoulder strength the floor press and military press are good for developing strength.
TFG: A lot of fighters try to push through sparring injuries and excess muscle fatigue during training and it ends up hurting them in the long term. How do you help them draw the line between the zeal to overcome all adversities and compete at all cost, and being smart about managing their schedule in a way that minimizes damage to the body?
Frank: The best solution is to have an open dialogue between the fighter, the coach and the support team. We tend to set weekly goals on Saturday and chalk out the plan for the next week. In the end, small goals per week leads to bigger gains, consistency in the given month. Likewise, periodization of goals, skills and training needs to happen for the whole month. It is very important for the head coach, coaches and the support team work together to achieve the desired objectives.
TFG: In your opinion, what are the first few steps that MMA gyms and state associations should take to build a grassroot structure for identifying talents in India?
Frank: MMA gyms need to have a symbiotic relationship with each other and build a community of like minded people that would help Indian fighters. The community can in the future have exchanges of coaches and fighters to improve the sport at a grassroot level.
TFG: You have been active in this field for several years now. Have you seen any improvement in the level of talent that you see in young MMA aspirants in India?
Frank: Thanks to media, the youth of today are star struck with the fighters from UFC and other promotions. These has led to many talented youth taking up this sport. We have just started skimming the surface. With fighters like Bharat going to UFC, Javed Mulla in One Warrior series and other fighters as well. Its just a matter of time, when one of our Indian fighters will make an impact in one of the global promotions. All you need is heart.