2019 was an excellent year for Mixed Martial Arts in India. A lot of Indian fighters were able to make their mark on the International stage, The BARC India report noted a huge rise in MMA viewership in the country and the year also saw many big MMA events being held in the nation with BRAVE CF 30 being the most notable from the lot.
Ever since its inception, BRAVE Combat Federation has had close ties with the MMA scene in India. In fact, the first-ever fight in the promotion was between two Indian fighters, Sunny Khatri and Atif Mohammad. Four years on, BRAVE CF still has strong ties with India and one of the men driving it is Mercury Sports Entertainment and BRAVE India CEO Akbar Rasheed.
And he feels that Mixed Martial Arts getting a place in the 2019 BARC India report shows how the audience in the nation has evolved and how MMA is the perfect fit for the Indian audiences.
Akbar Rasheed: Over the past few years, we have been seeing an increase in the viewership in MMA. As you said, the BARC India report is showing a separate section showing the viewership of MMA in India. I think that’s a great thing. Back in 2017, MMA just came under the column Wrestling and other combat sports. In our country, Entertainment is something that is so important.
And I think the audience has really evolved over the years. Today, the amount of time that the audience want to spend on entertainment is lesser. So time is currency in the business of entertainment. I’ll give you an example, the audience has evolved from watching a five-day cricket match to a one-day cricket match to a T-20 cricket match now. In such a scenario, to watch an MMA fight where you have everything action-packed into 25 or 15 minutes, that is a completely different and I think that’s the type of entertainment that India and the World is looking for.
While there has been an increase in the consumption of MMA in India, Akbar also called out that most of the content that we consume at the moment is from international sources.
Akbar Rasheed: Even though there is an increase in the viewership, we need to understand that most of this is not indigenous content. All the MMA that is being consumed today in India except for the show that we did in MTV and whatever fights that we’ve broadcasted here in India as BRAVE Combat Federation, all the other MMA content that we see today on Indian Television is from other countries.
And the Hyderabad-based Entrepreneur also had a three-point solution to turn the tables. It includes a combined effort from everyone in the MMA community in addition to the generation of new MMA fans in India by educating people about the sport.
Akbar Rasheed: There are certain areas in which we need to start putting a little more attention. We need to start training our fighters in better facilities, our fighters need to focus on their careers as MMA fighters. Secondly, I think the Federations and the coaches are doing a great job. If we all work together for this entire ecosystem of MMA, that is going to make a big difference.
Thirdly and most importantly, is how promotions are able to put the money behind the sport. I think changing the perspective of the audience is also important for us. As a promotion, we are now trying to educate the audience as much as possible about the sport.
Above all this, Akbar feels that one thing that MMA in India needs at the moment is its own stars. Even now, a major portion of the MMA community in India looks up to the MMA stars outside the nation. While there is nothing wrong with it, in order for the sport to grow leaps and bound in the nation, it is necessary that we rally behind our own Indian MMA fighters.
Akbar Rasheed: The biggest factors that we need to understand is that sports like Cricket and Kabbadi are very close to the Indian audience, Indian soil and the Indian sports ecosystem. However, the biggest learning that we can take from Cricket, for example, is that the Cricket ecosystem has several idols. You have a Sachin Tendulkar, You have a Virat Kohli, and you have an MS Dhoni.
If you are going to keep looking at icons from different countries, it’s going to be hard to establish any stars or icons in this country for MMA. I think the business model is pretty similar. We are starting the sport, we are educating the audience, and you are doing enough tournaments or fights or doing enough leagues, you are doing that. But the model will only be successful only under the scenario where the fighters that are fighting in your promotion start becoming icons.
For this to play out perfectly everything needs to align perfectly and Akbar is more than aware of the same. He also pointed out that BRAVE has huge plans which aim to build a sustainable ecosystem for MMA in India.
Akbar Rasheed: As an ecosystem, we have evolved over time. From having zero existence of the sport to having a BARC report with MMA viewership section, we have been able to establish a certain audience for the sport in the country. Being said that, there is a long way for us to go for which BRAVE Combat Federation and other promotions in the country have been working day in and day out.
BRAVE has huge plans for building an ecosystem that is sustainable, financially and entertainment-wise, I think the model we have built up and what we have in store for the Indian audience for the coming year ahead of us, we need the ecosystem to be built with the help of the fighters, the help of the federations, the coaches, with the content we generate and most importantly, the fans that we can generate for the sport of MMA in this country. I think once all these elements work together in a way they are supposed to work, I think that’s when the Indian MMA ecosystem will start to work as smooth as clockwork.
All these plans, however, has been put on hold due to the on-going Coronavirus Pandemic. BRAVE CF has taken up many initiatives to spread awareness about the same and KHK Heroes under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Khalid have been distributing ration across the world as well. Akbar noted that all franchises of BRAVE have been doing one thing or the other.
BRAVE, meanwhile, was also planning to return to India in June this year but that too has been put on hold due to the pandemic. However, there is indeed something to look forward to as far as BRAVE India is concerned. A new league format is in the pipeline for the MMA fans and details of the same would soon be revealed as well.
Akbar Rasheed: We had fight night planned in June in Mumbai and we were just beginning to start putting the fight card. As far as BRAVE India is concerned, we will be going back into stronger into the market right after the COVID ends. We are doing some awareness campaigns on social media as we speak in India. Right after that, we plan to go very aggressive on the Marketing of the business and we want to have another fight night in India and then we also want to start working on the league format of the game that will be revealed to the media and the rest of the world soon. We are working on that, it’s in the pipeline. It’s been in the pipeline for a little over a year and it’s going to be something very big in the Indian MMA industry when it comes out. We are going to look forward to a lot of support from the media, fighters, federations and all the associated MMA bodies in this country.
When concluding, Akbar added that the impact of Coronavirus will be there but he also sees the positive side of things and hopes that MMA in India will thrive in the coming years. And With everything that happened for Mixed Martial Arts in India in 2019, the sky is the limit for the sport.