IF THERE'S ONE THING you can say about Amit Kumar, it's that he is singlularly clear about the task in hand.
The Mixed Martial Artist who formerly appeared in Super Fight League is about to take on Abhijeet Petkar in the main event of Soul of Warriors 3 in September. This will be his first professional MMA fight since March 2018. But when talking about the upcoming bout, Amit doesn't dwell on the usual things a fighter would talk about: inproving cardio, rounding out the game, ring rust and the like.
Instead, he's brutally honest about what he is going to do, and what he isn't,
"I'm a bit of a rusher. I don't play defence much. MMA mein mere se defence nahi hoga. I'll counter, but I'll do it by pushing my way into the scrap. So it's punches and kicks for me because in Delhi I haven't found many facilities to train my ground game. I already have to go very far from my home to train and even then there isn't any way to learn grappling. And the places that teach it... well, they don't want to teach me, if I am being honest. I don't know why but it is what it is. So of course, I'll lack in my ground game."
Amit has earned the right to this brash honesty mixed with the patented Delhi braggadocious attitude. His arrival in pro MMA, back in 2016 against Ashish Choudhary in Super Fight League, was one of the most memorable debut fights one can hope to have,
"I didn't train in MMA or anything. And I had left by base sport boxing back in 2012 and joined the fitness industry. But somebody introduced me to MMA. He said, just throw punches and don't go down. That's how my name was entered. So... I knew how to punch, so I punched."
And punch he did. He knocked out his opponent in just 11 seconds, the second fastest knockout in the history of SFL.
Amit's reputation of producing fireworks in the cage skyrocketed after his second fight where he faced the much more experienced Jason Ramesh Solomon. The fight was one of the most exciting brawls in the history of SFL, a one round slugfest where after eating some early leg kicks Amit dominated with his punches. Jason was knocked down multiple times and in a memorable show of heart kept fighting on wobbly legs until he managed to secure a takedown. This was where Amit's lack of ground game let him down. He ended up giving up his back and being caught in a rear naked choke.
The whole fight lasted less than four minutes but seemed like an eternity. When it was over, every jaw in the arena was hanging open, and even the commentators were rendered breathless.
His stock only continued to rise in the next fight. Amit went up against Manoj Antil, hurt him early, and when he got taken down, managed to lock in on an armbar. For the first time, he displayed considerable grappling skills and managed to get his first - and so far, only - submission victory on his pro record.
A reputation of excitement propelled him forward. He had been in three fights and all of them had ended in the first round, and were memorable on their own. Amit was a rising star in Indian MMA, but his ascent would be cut short in the next two fights.
He faced Rajith Chandran in his next fight, and dominated the striking exchanges again. In fact, he almost got a knockout. Then he got his opponent in a mounted triangle in the second round. But due to exhaustion creeping in courtesy Rajith's repeated takedown attempts and grappling exchanges, Amit could not hold onto that position. Soon afterwards, he would get caught in a triangle. It was his second pro loss, and the second one he was inches away from winning, only to see it slip away.
By this time, the flaws in his game were figured out by opponents' coaches. Amit's next opponent, Nikhil Bhatt, had a well rounded game and he put on a patient display. Nikhil's leg kicks hurt Amit in the first round. The scond round was all stand-up where both men exchanged hooks and jabs throughout. In the third round, Amit was visibly more tired, and still dealing with the leg injury he picked up in the first round that restricted his movement. Nikhil used this to stay out of harms's way and snipe in with range strikes to get the win by decision.
Amit was now 2-3 in his pro MMA career but as far as losses went, none of his were crushing to his confidence or undermined his value as an exciting competitor. He was looking forward to improve and continue, but he was forced out of action by something much more dreaded than a strong opponent: the closure of a promotion.
Overnight, Amit found himself straying further and further away from the sport until Soul of Warriors came calling,
"I felt the people who got me into this sport were using me too much. They were not showing me the right way forward, although I was capable. I didn't have any special training. I was mostly self-made... but the opportunities were not there. SFL gave us 5 year contracts. We were hoping for there to be a season every year but that didn't happen. Later on when MFN started I tried to make contact but it didn't work. Since then I have not been that close to MMA. I'm a fitness professional, I don't even teach boxing. If somebody trustworthy needs some specialized training in MMA, I sometimes provide that, because I've got results I got myself to count on. But then Soul of Warriors reached out to me, so I said, okay let's do it. I signed on for two fights."
Now, with his return to competition in sight, Amit said he wanted to make fighting a habit again,
"My intention is to be active again for 3-4 years. This is my peak age. I want to push till I'm 35. For that, I need regular fights. Twice a year will do, it's enough to stay in training for the whole year. I've got this fight now, but if they give me another right afterwards I'll stay in training for that. I want that to be a habit, I need to get out of the work-and-back-home lifestyle I had acquired in the last couple of years."
Asked about his strategy for his immediate upcoming fight, Amit made it clear that his weapon of choice will be the most familiar skill-set he has had in his combat sports career,
"For this fight I am mostly focusing on my striking. All I'm doing is improving my style. If you notice, in my first season at SFL I didn't use kicks in fights. I used to train with kicks but didn't apply it in competition. But in my second season I incorporate that into my game. I'm a boxer and I was going up against a kickboxer, and I kicked him more than he kicked me. So you'll see me use that. I'm extending my kicking range and working them into combinations. Abhijeet Petkar is an experienced fighter. He's been here a long time. If he also wants to throw bombs with me, that would be awesome. Because I really want to have a stand up battle. I don't care if my leg goes or my face goes, my only motto is that if I get knocked out, it will never be with my back turned. I will stand in front of his face and drop right down."
But, Amit was quick to assure that it was not going to be easy to finish him, especially because he has never ever been knocked out in his life,
"Oh it's not going to be that easy. I have never been knocked out, not even in my boxing career. I have played in Senior Nationals twice, and I never got knocked out. Not even a flash-knockout, in my whole life. Even in UFC, I have noticed that there are BJJ black belts who try to use a lot of stand-up. Because you can survive longer that way. Once you go to the ground, you use up a lot of your energy, and much of it is a waste. So stand-up is important, and it looks great too... I met Abhijeet in 2018 during SFL. Probably said hi hello to him once or twice. We haven't really talked to each other much. I know a lot of fighters from Mumbai, a lot of them are my friends. So obviously this is nothing personal for me. This is a sport, a contact sport. Inside the cage we're all competitors, no one is friend or anything else. In boxing training, I was taught that if you are not hitting your partner hard, you are cheating him. If you don't hit him he's not going to learn. So our seniors didn't spare us and we didn't spare our juniors. It helped me improve a lot as an athlete. So if this is my philosophy in training, you can imagine what I'm going to do in an actual fight."
Although Amit is keen to make sure regular fights come his way in the future, he is still cautious about what can be done, especially in Indian MMA with the limitations he has faced throughout his career. Asked about the long term plan behind his comeback, he said,
"To have a long term vision for the career you need to be able to train like that. You need advanced facilities, at least you need a coach who knows what you don't. If my ground game is weak I need a coach who can teach me that. Right now what's happening is I'm just going with the flow of things. I don't have a gym that teaches proper MMA. There are boxing gyms here, maybe some Muay Thai if I look for it but it won't be the real thing. And if you go to a grappling gym, I don't know what's with them, but they can't stand striking. Very few places in India, maybe in Mumbai or Bangalore, can do hardcore MMA."
But he insisted that the fans would get to see a much more mature and intelligent fighter in action this time,
"I'm neither scared of getting hit, nor dishing out punishment. Even my fear of being taken down has gone away, I can stay a lot more calm now. But it's a weakness for me that my ground game hasn't really improved. I have lost fights because of that... there is not much footage on Abhijeet. He used to play at heavier weight classes, and his game, his strategy was way different there... it's fine. I decided that what I can put effort into and improve on is my striking, my range."
His sixth professional fight would also mark his very first time headlining a card. Asked if there were any additional pressures that came with it, Amit shrugged off the idea,
"This is my first fight night main event, yes. But call it luck, or something else, I have had high placements in fight cards before. In SFL I was a backup Welterweight for Haryana team, but the Brazilian fighter in my weight class missed his flight. So I got to fight at co-main event. Similar stuff happened in next season. If I sit here thinking about the spotlight and the pressure, I'll get poor results. So I don't take that stress. There's enough reasons for stress in life, I am not even thinking about it."
Amit then elaborated on how he thought the fight would go down, and promised another memorable outing that fit his style,
"Only two results are acceptable to me. Either I'll get knocked out first time in my life or I'll knock him out... usually the opponents I get can't take hard strikes to the face. That's not my problem. I have taken so many punches since I was 14 that my eyes don't even flinch at them. Even when I have lost a fight, got submitted or something, I have felt my opponents buckling under my strikes. They can't take it and go to the ground. These are four ounce gloves, the impact is going to be hard. He will go down. I know this much."
Abhijeet Petkar had earlier spoken to TFG and given his own predictions about the fight. He had promised to win by knockout within two rounds, saying, "It won't go to the third round, I can tell you that much." When this was relayed to Amit, he laughed,
"Which round? I'm not planning for that much. Tell Abhijeet Patekar that by second round he will be tired and I will be tired. Off-comeptition he puts on more weight than me, so he will have to cut a lot more. If we get through the first round, he will be out of breath and so will I. I will put effort into the first round so he will have to do the same, I'll make him do it... I think in the first round, between four, four-and-a-half and five minutes you will get a result. If he changes strategy and goes to the ground and I avoid being submitted, then it may go to the second round, but we will both be tired. A stand-up fight will not go to the second round, whoever wins. That's my prediction."
Now, when two proven strikers promise not to spend the full 15 minutes out in the ring, it does give out a strong indication that Soul of Warriors 3 will close the night with a memorable stoppage.
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