THE FIRST FIGHT night under the Brave Combat Federation is just a week away, set to happen on the 23rd September under the bright lights of Khalifa Sports City, Bahrain. Making up the fight card are an eclectic mix of fighters from various countries and representing various gyms. However, what sets this one apart is the fact that alongside other big names fighting on a truly international stage, are three Indian Mixed Martial Artists, who will be looking at leaving a lasting impression when the dust settles on the maiden BCF event.
Among the ones under the spotlight, you can be rest assured that Indian MMA star Abdul Muneer will be the one who will be looking to turn up the heat, given that he is slotted to fight ex-UFC fighter Masio Fullen on the main card. One of the true OGs in Indian MMA, Muneer is raring to go in this second phase of his fighting career and in an exclusive with The Fan Garage, spoke candidly about his journey, his experiences and the upcoming fight.
The Fan Garage: You have been one of the most outspoken representatives in India for MMA fighters in the recently formed Brave Combat Federation. In your experience, what sets it apart from the other promotions you have competed in prior to now?
Abdul Muneer: I do not consider myself outspoken but the grave situation faced by Indian athletes is because they were silent for too long when they should have raised their voice. There is nothing wrong in raising voice for the right cause, against corruption, praising people who need recognition and becoming the voice of people who do not have one.
Brave Combat Federation lets the fighters to be themselves and treat everyone like professionals. BRAVE is equipped with the best facilities, resources and is transparent in their operation. BRAVE is an initiative of the well-respected KHK Foundation headed by His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The fighters affiliated with KHK include some of the best in the world including Frankie Edgar, Daniel Cormier etc. So BRAVE is all set to change the way MMA was set in Asia and we expect a global impact.
TFG: Your opponent Masio Fullen has had more fights than you and on a much larger stage, including the UFC. Does it unnerve you even a bit heading into this fight or is it all more motivation to bring in your best when you face him?
AM: Not at all. I respect him for his achievements but by the moment he enters the ring, the past and future is irrelevant. He is my opponent and I have to defeat him in that ring and that is the only choice I have got. I did not opt for an easy fight; I understand it is the toughest to ask for in the fight card. Facing challenges makes us stronger and when overcome against such odds a legacy is born. I have faced challenges all my life even during my childhood. Overcoming obstacles is a part of my life and I will do it again.
TFG: You are from the northern district of Calicut in Kerala, known for its rich history in martial arts, with Kalaripayattu having its origins there. Can you talk to us a bit about your journey in the martial arts space, as in which discipline did you start in and what led you to MMA?
AM: I was always a fighter. I loved the art of fighting more. I started with Karate and flourished into boxing and won multiple championships and the coveted Best Boxer award in the State of Kerala twice. I started as a cutman and then landed in MMA. My journey was tough but I am happy for where I am, thanks to the support of my friends and well-wishers.
TFG: You have been in the MMA scene for a long time now, what are the hurdles that you have faced over the years? And what are the factors that helped you to overcome them?
AM: There had been stigmas imposed by the society, officials who control the sport and attitude of athletes. In which we can only control the third point. And that changes everything. The other two are challenges that are not in our direct control. Our society doesn't believe that sports can still be taken up as a profession. This attitude needs to change. So far in my life I haven't received any incentives from government nor did I do any other job. Sport is my passion and I focused on my goal and the rest happened.
MMA is dogged by corrupt officials belonging to small associations who have no experience in the sport. Indian association was even headed by an amateur kick boxer who was a part time priest. It was a tough time. I realized that if athletes unite, only thing these officials can do is to block you on social media sites. Athletes remain as islands; they are too scared of each other that they don't support each other. If all the athletes are connected corruption in sports will be removed to a great extent.
The third part is the most important. The attitude of the athletes is way too important. They must spend time to keep learning not just about sports but about management, communication and legal. Must work like a professional by not just focusing on the sport but develop marketing opportunities, sponsor relations, media relations and even take care of communication and legal aspects of it.
TFG: In your estimation, how is the martial arts scene in India in terms of talent? Does it have the potential to make waves overseas in countries such as Japan, USA & Brazil which have come to be known as the mecca for combat sports?
AM: It took two decades for MMA to establish in USA. India took not even half the time. Only thing that is stopping Indian MMA is inexperienced associations and corruptions. Not just in MMA but in many line of sports. Athletes are not educated enough nor they do know their rights and responsibilities. India is the Mecca of combat sports. Many forms of martial arts have the origin in India. And even 10% of Indian population follows MMA it amounts to such a huge number. So I see it the other way around.