COMING BACK FROM a four year layoff is not an easy prospect for any MMA fighter.
Although for Abhijeet Petkar, who is about to headline the Soul of Warriors 3 event with an Welterweight bout against Amit Kumar, is only 33 - well within his fighting prime - the fact that he has not been active in competition since 2017 is a factor that will add to the unknown factors surrounding the contest.
The fighter himself, however, is not worried about the time spent away from the cage. In fact, he had been getting ready for a comeback for a while,
"Earlier I made a decision to come back but due to some stuff going on in my personal life I could not. Then COVID-19 delayed my comeback further."
Abhijeet said he was pursuing more than just this fight with Amit. He had a plan in place for the next stage of his career,
"I'm not fighting for money any more. I want to make a good name and I want some good fights, I don't want to fight some debutant and the like... I have had a word with the promoters and the matchmakers at SOW... let's see what happens. I don't want to have long gaps between fights. I want to stay active constantly."
When it comes to his opponent - who is also coming off a similar layoff - Abhijeet said the fight was more of a sporting match-up rather than one born out of a grudge,
"They offered me a fight and I took it. Nothing like, I mean... I know Amit, I don't know him personally, but we were both in Super Fight League. There's nothing as far as personal animosity is concerned. I will take on anyone. In fact I have tried to get a rematch with Bhabajeet Choudhury multiple times, asked multiple promotions to get it done. In that fight I was sick, he was overweight. I'm not giving any excuses but at least I should get a rematch. But I got turned down everywhere. He just does not want to fight me."
Bhabajeet Choudhury (8-4), who submitted Abhijeet in the first round back in SFL, recently signed with Matrix Fight Night, and it was announced that he is going to face Jason Ramesh Solomon at MFN 6.
Asked why Abhijeet had not signed with MFN to pursue that fight, he said,
"Well, in India we only have two major promotions right now. Matrix Fight Night, and Soul of Warriors is the second biggest promotion as of now. And basically there are a lot of politics in MFN. They only promote their own fighters. A few times they asked me to compete but later on didn't give any answers... that's the main reason that I'm not fighting in MFN. Sure, I'll fight from other promotions as well, but that'll happen later. I have four fights in my SOW contract, then I'll go elsewhere... I think the matchmaker here is pretty good. I was supposed to fight in Kazakhstan next month. But I said no to them because I am fighting at SOW."
The fight with Amit Kumar, however, is something Abhijeet considered as a good opportunity to showcase his abilities as a competitor,
"I will be doing a stand-up battle this time. You'll see a brawl. I'll focus on my kicks. I used to train in sanda when I used to live in China. I have trained with a lot of sanda fighters. I used to dedicate the whole day to learning it. I have been brushing that up for this fight. You will see a lot of kickboxing. I'll finish the fight in second round. I'm quite sure about it."
The 'brawling' that Abhijeet promised is quite on-brand for the fighter who goes by the nickname 'Bulldog.' While he was away from the cage, he was working to expand his gym, which is aptly named 'Brawlers MMA Gym and Fitness,'
"My gym is doing pretty well. I have a good name in my city. My gym is number one in the Thane district. Recently I have opened another branch. I also have some plans regarding my fighter development programme. I will be receruting young fighters and promote them both in domestic and international events. I've been working on that as well."
Developing young fighters is something Abhijeet considered as a long term project that he would dedicate years of his life to come. The way Indian fighters train for fights, he believed, left much to be desired,
"Going abroad and fighting is not a big thing. But you should have a good training camp. You should have good training partners. The way you train. that's the only way you're gonna fight... we are missing the coaching part. And it's not just an India-specific problem, it happens in other countries too. For example, in China, the MMA fighters go to a boxing coach to train in high level boxing. They go to a kickboxing coach for a high level of Dutch kickboxing training. Then they do the same for muay thai. And it all gets jumbled up. When they go to fight, they don't know which technique to apply. In the back of their mind, there's no head coach providing a unified vision. They end up confused. We have the same problem in India. In many training camps here, if they are from Brazilian Jiu Jiutsu background, they tell them, take him to the ground and finish the fight. But you have to fight on your feet as well, right? So that part remains missing from their game. It's that connecting thread between boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, BJJ that we don't have."
When asked if the solution would be to send Indian fighters to train abroad or to bring in specialist MMA coaches from abroad to train Indian fighters, Abhijeet said,
"We should do both and see which way works better. You see everybody has their own point of view regarding what they're going to do next and how they'll get things done. Some coaches will tell you to go to the ground first thing, some will tell you to stay on your feet. But what don't have coaches who can understand the fighters. We need coaches who will figure out what a fighter can do and design the training around what's best for that fighter to do."
As of now, Abhijeet said the training for the upcoming fight was happening through a mutual collaboration with other fighters rather than having a single coach leading the whole camp,
"All the fighters from Mumbai who are about to fight in SOW, we train together. Sometimes in our gym, sometimes in their gym. Not every day but often. Basically we are coaching each other. One of us is good in grappling, he's coaching others in grappling. One is good in striking, he's teaching that. We're sharing the knowledge."
But when asked to share more details about his strategy for the upcoming fight, all Abhijeet would say was,
"It won't go to the third round. I can tell you that much."
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