IN A DEVELOPMENT that will sadden many Indian MMA fans, Bharat Kandare has been released from his contract in the UFC.
The first ever Indian citizen to compete in the promotion, Bharat (6-3 MMA) only appeared once in the UFC back in 2017, where he was submitted in the first round by Song Yadong.
An injury caused him to pull out from a subsequent bout at UFC 227. After that, he tested positive for the banned substance Boldenone undecylenate, which he said came from a medicine prescribed by a doctor who was unaware of him being a professional athlete under the regulations of USADA.
Bharat received a 2 year suspension for his failed dope test, which ran until November 2020. But Bharat, who wanted to train at Jackson Wink MMA Academy before returning to the cage, was unable to get a visa to the USA due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And a few months ago he also told some online outlets that he wanted to take some time off MMA before returning to UFC for family reasons. But UFC's decision to release him from the promotion marks an end to the hopes that Indian MMA fans have long held of seeing Bharat back in action for the biggest name in world MMA. Bharat retains the right to join other MMA promotions to continue his career.
Confirming the development, Somesh Kamra, co-founder of Superhuman Gym (Who helped Bharat get his first UFC fight) told TFG,
"We had this discussion on a call with the UFC on Tuesday morning. What they told me was that they want to look at other fighters from India. Actually, life in the UFC, the professionalism, drug testing and the commitment are all leaps and bounds above the Indian MMA promotions. It's almost like a full time job. Even after serving a suspension, there is a systematic way to come back."
The UFC remains interested in featuring Indian fighters, Mr Kamra revealed. Before the pandemic hit, when UFC president Dana White was asked which countries he was looking to get into next, China and India were the first two he mentioned.
Somesh Kamra elaborated on the upcoming search for talent he is about to undertake on UFC's behalf,
"What they asked me was to groom new fighters who know what they are getting into. They want to ensure the new Indian fighters know the level of effort that's needed to be in the UFC. It's not just about skill-set, it's also about the work ethic. I am looking to suggest multiple new names to the UFC in 2022."
When asked if there are fighters who have already made it into his shortlist, he said,
"The issue with the existing crop of fighters in India is that they're already in their 30s. When looking at new talent for UFC, we'd prefer fighters who are younger. In their 20s, preferably. That way they can have the prospect of a longer career in the promotion."
He further went onto detail the circumstances the UFC, and the fighters, are navigating due to the pandemic,
"From what I'm hearing, even next year, most of the events will be held in the USA. Because due to the extra complications in getting work visas the UFC is facing some issues putting together events in other countries around the world. There will be events in Abu Dhabi, too, but I don't have the schedule for that yet. So whoever is stepping up will have to be able to travel to the USA for fights."
Due to the new Indian fighters possibly being early in their MMA careers, Mr Kamra said there was a developmental aspect to the selection that the UFC was aware of,
"They came up with an excellent suggestion. The new fighters will not only be considered for the main shows of the UFC, but some of the fresher names may get a chance to compete at the Dana White's Contender Series where they can earn a contract at the UFC. That way a higher number of Indian fighters can get themselves looked at by the UFC and have the opportunity to make it there. We can even send two or three fighters by 2022."
The Superhuman Gym is launching a new MMA promotion, Superhuman Battleground, that aims to develop talent for bigger promotions. When asked if there's any correlation between UFC's hunt for Indian talent and the launch of this promotion, he said,
"There is no direct link between the two. What we are trying to do at Superhuman Battleground is try to give amateur fighters an opportunity to further develop their careers. Our first event is scheduled for 6th November, we're just finalising the card right now."
For Bharat Kandare, though, losing out on his place at the UFC is a massive setback, and a disappointing end to over 4 years of struggles.
Perhaps the success Arjan achieved after his stint at the UFC can be an inspiration for Bharat. For the Indian MMA fans, though, the takeaway would be that despite releasing Bharat, UFC are actively taking a larger interest in finding and featuring the next generation of fighters from India.