ANSHUL JUBLI HAS WON his semi-final bout at the Road to UFC Lightweight tournament, beating South Korean opponent Kyung Pyo Kim by split decision after a close fight.
Coming into the fight as an underdog, Anshul Jubli, who had received a bye in the quarter final round, outshined his more experienced opponent both on the feet and the ground.
Kim, who had 11 pro MMA victories compared to Anshul's five, won his quarter final bout in spectacular fashion, knocking out Asikeerbai Jinensibieke in just 30 seconds. When the fight began, it was obvious that he wanted to overwhelm Anshul and take the fight to the ground to look for another quick finish. He opened the fight aggressively, landing a left hand.
But Anshul did not flinch or retreat. He met Kim head on and within seconds they were within clinching range, throwing hands and landing knees on each other. And it was Kim who took the first step back.
This exchange established the power dynamic for the whole bout. It was now Anshul, the underdog, who was pressing forward, walking straight at Kim who went on a retreat, spinning away from the cage to avoid being cornered.
Kim, who is a Brazilian Jiu Jiutsu brown belt, looked for a takedown to get out of this jam. But Anshul defended the attempt, and even went for a single leg himself, although unsuccessfully.
After this, Anshul decided to strike his way into the game. He kept pressing ahead, landing punches and straight kicks, using his reach. Kim responded with a long winded left hand but Anshul managed to dig into his body, and Kim momentarily fell to his knee.
Feeling the pressure, Kim hit back with his right hand. Anshul countered with his left. Kim saw an opening to get close, and he tried to move in to set up an upper cut. But Anshul saw him coming, quickly shifted on his feet and clipped him with his right hand. Kim got knocked down. And although he sprang back up, the judges had noticed.
Kim responded by taking Anshul down. But the Indian fighter showed excellent defensive game on the ground, and got back to his feet without sustaining any damage. It was enough to get the first round to his name.
In the second round, Anshul came out with a more confident stride. He moved in and landed a couple of body shots on Kim, before following it up with a couple of leg kicks. But by now Kim had become wise to Anshul's tendency to go for body shots and he started countering with head shots every time Anshul went to the body. So Anshul went for a combination on the head instead, prompting Kim to land a body shot and a leg kick.
Anshul nodded at his opponent, as if daring him to do that again. When Kim got close Anshul landed a knee but Kim withstood it, and took Anshul down. But once again, Anshul managed to get back on the feet within seconds. The two exchanged strikes for the rest of the round, with Anshul almost knocking Kim's mouthpiece out with a jab at one point. And Kim landed a power shot that momentarily put an exhausted Anshul on uncertain legs.
Going into the third round, Anshul looked tired. He was breathing hard back in the corner as his coach told him,
"This is where it gets hard for both of you. And this is where it will get better for you."
The third round began with Kim landing some jabs as Anshul resumed his strategy of walking forward and putting the pressure on his opponent. Kim managed to take Anshul down as well, but yet again Anshul managed to get back up without letting Kim's strong suit - the ground and pound - change the course of the fight. Back on his feet, Anshul kept marching Kim down, and landed multiple shots. And although Kim tried to re-assert himself by getting into a close range, it was Anshul once again who came out on top in that exchange.
Towards the end, Kim went for more takedowns but Jubli managed to defend them too. As the fight ended, things looked uncertain; since on paper it looked like Kim had landed more strikes and had some takedowns to boot. But in fact it was Anshul who had landed the more damaging blows, defended takedowns well and when Kim had taken him to the ground he had managed to avoid taking any damage.
Perhaps fitting for the occasion, the judges returned a split decision. But ultimately it was Anshul Jubli who rightly had his hand raised in victory.
Taking the mic after the win, he exclaimed to the Mixed Martial Arts fans watching worldwide,
"Namaste UFC! India is here! India is here!"
Anshul Jubli, now 6-0 in his pro MMA career, has become the first Indian citizen to earn a victory under the Zuffa banner. And he is one win away from earning a contract at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the biggest MMA promotion in the world. If he achieves that, he will become the second Indian citizen to earn that distinction after Bharat Kandare.
In the final bout, Anshul will face off with Indonesian fighter Jeka Saragih (13-2) who beat his semi-final opponent by a first round knockout.