DEFYING ALL DETRACTORS and roadblocks, Anshul Jubli has won the 'Road to UFC' Lightweight tournament in sensational fashion; becoming the second Indian citizen ever to earn a contract with the Ulitmate Fighting Championship; the biggest MMA promotion in the world.
Jubli, who hails from Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, achieved several historic milestones as he put Indian MMA in the global map by knocking out his opponent Jeka Saragih in the second round at UFC Vegas 68 in Las Vegas, USA.
Apart from becoming the second Indian citizen to enter the UFC roster after Bharart Kandare, he has also become the first Indian citizen to earn a victory at a UFC event. He is also the first Indian to win a UFC developmental tournament, and the first Indian citizen to win a professional MMA fight in a major promotion outside Asian soil.
His victory is the culmination of several years of hopes and efforts from the Indian MMA community to make their mark on the world stage of Mixed Martial Arts and its leading organisation, UFC.
Coming in, Jubli was seen as a underdog against his opponent, Jeka Saragih from Indonesia, with several experts as well as the betting market predicting his loss. However, he was an even bigger underdog in his previous 'Road to UFC' bout; which he managed to win as well.
Facing an expert striker like Saragih, who had won 13 of his 15 previous pro MMA fights, Anshul had come in with a strategy unlike any of his previous 6 bouts. He wanted to take the fight to the ground, where Jeka was less effective. In fact, Jeka's only two losses had come via submission.
Although Anshul himself comes from a striking background, he bet on his Jiu Jiutsu training from Siddharth Singh at Delhi's Crosstrain Fight Club to get the job done for him.
As such, he started the fight with a confident stride to the centre of the cage, claiming all the space for himself and pushing Jeka back towards the fence. With the fight taking place in the smaller Octagon at UFC Apex, it took him less than a second to have his opponent exactly where he wanted.
Not to be deterred, Jeka Saragih opened his offensive with low leg kicks that were so loud that they produced echoes in the hall. Anshul replied with a couple of quick punches that got through Jeka's guard, and shot for a double leg takedown. He pinned Jeka to the cage, then switched to an ankle pick and got the takedown.
Once on the canvas, Anshul faced tough resistance from Jeka as he tried to secure top control. Jeka dropped some hard elbows on his head, and Anshul replied with some left-handed ground and pound. He also managed to sit up momentarility to create some distance, use it to bring down a heavy hand on Jeka, then used the momentum to slip inside his guard, looking for an arm triangle submission.
And he almost trapped Jeka there, but the Indonesian veteran scrambled hard to get out of that position and straight back on his feet. To signal that Anshul wasn't going to get an easy win here, he finished the round strong with some leg kicks; same way he had started the fight.
As the two returned to the corner, it was obvious that Jeka Saragih was the more tired fighter after the first round. Anshul, who was likely ahead on the judges' scorecard, now had the chance to seal the deal while he had the upper hand.
Perhaps sensing the opportunity, he sprinted forward the moment the second round began. He threw a wild head kick and before Jeka had recovered from the shock of it, had him pinned to the cage again. This time, the takedown came even faster and Anshul was on Jeka's back.
As Anshul tried to control his opponent, Jeka fought desperately to free his back, burning more energy in the process. Anshul kept hitting him with elbows and with time, Jeka was sprawled out on the canvas, face down, once again dealing with another tight submission attempt from Anshul.
Jeka tried to move around to face Anshul. But he couldn't. The moment he turned he faced heavy ground-and-pound blows to the face. He ended up giving Anshul a side-mount, where he could hardly see the hammerfists raining down on him well enough to defend against them.
The referee, watching closely, had seen enough. He stepped in to stop the fight. It was done. Anshul had won, by TKO, with a round and a half to spare.
Anshul circled the cage with his arms raised in a calm celebration. In an interview with TFG, he had said that he did not enjoy wins as much as the build-up to the fight. And even though he had just achieved a historic milestone that was not just a big step forward for his own career but also for all of Indian MMA, he didn't seem to be overcome with joy.
In the post fight interview, his message was precise and full of intent,
"Namaste UFC, we have arrived! India is here!... we're not stopping here, we're going all the way to the top!"
He made sure to thank all the fans, fellow fighters and coaches who had worked hard to get him into the UFC as an ambassador for Indian MMA,
"We have proven why we're here... I'll do whatever it takes... Indian MMA community worked very hard to send their boy... I'm going to make them proud."
Meanwhile, on social media, thousands of Indian MMA fans, who had watched UFC for years, celebrated the moment they had waited for all this time: one of their own getting their hand raised in the fabled Octagon.
With this dream now being a reality, the wait begins for the undefeated Anshul Jubli, with a 7-0 pro MMA record to begin climbing the ladder of the UFC Lightweight division; widely considered to be the most difficult division in all of MMA.