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How Ashish Sethi became the first Indian to win a fight at an IFMA event

LockerRoom Team
Calendar Icon25 April 2021

Back in 2019, for the first time ever at an IFMA event, an Indian was standing at the Medal Podium after actually winning a fight. It was a bronze medal for the nation which came thanks to Ashish Sethi who had defeated Jhao Cyun Ciou of Chinese Taipei to win the medal in the Elite Category. 

The love for WWE and Sporty Childhood

Born in Haryana, sports was something that was part of Ashish’s life from his childhood itself. Just like most of the other Indian kids growing up, he used to play cricket along with a string of other games, and this, in turn, helped him to nurture the athlete inside him.

The twist in the tale, however, came when he found WWE. Young Ashish was an avid follower of the Undertaker and was under the perception that WWE had real fights and Undertaker was a real fighter. It was the discovery of Mixed Martial Arts and UFC that made him think otherwise.

One thing led to the other and at the age of 22, Ashish took up combat sports.

“It was not very tough for me to switch to another game. But at the same time, Combat Sports is totally different, it takes a lot from you. It has a lot of pain like it takes a lot of hard work, cardiovascular running, abs, crunches, punches, kicks everything. So you have to be very determined. You get beat down and if you have to leave your ego aside sometimes and have to show your attitude and character,” Ashish says while noting that the age of 22 was a bit late in terms of taking up Martial Arts.

Starting with Kickboxing

Kickboxing was the first step that Ashish took. There was a gym nearby his home that gave him the basic training he required. He, however, felt that he needed to polish his skills and ended up joining ONE Punch MMA in Mumbai under Balkrishna Shetty which paved the path for his transition to Muay-Thai. Ashish also trained in Thailand which further improved his skill set.

At the age of 23, a year after starting out, Ashish won the National Championship in Kickboxing. A year later, he won National Level Competition in Muay-Thai while also shining at State Level in Wushu. It was at this point that he started taking combat sports seriously although it was something that he started for fun and weight loss.

“So, Initial reaction [of my family] was that he will pursue this for a few days and then leave it. They thought that I was doing this for fun and for weight loss as I was 96 Kg when I started. So I had big muscles and all. I didn’t have good oxygen to take Combat Sports like not a very good athlete body so in the initial stages it was really tough and my family members were laughing at me when I told them that I want to be a fighter. But after some time when I won the National Championship and every other game they believed in me. After that their belief changed when I won the National Championship in Muay Thai as well and then in Kickboxing and in Wushu and everything. So they gave me the thumbs up after that,” Ashish recalls.

Keeping a stable income source and following his combat sports dreams was something that Ashish initially struggled with but with the support of his family, he was able to weather the storm and move forward.

The first Indian to win a fight at an IFMA Event

2019 is the year that proved to be a career changer for Ashish. He competed and won a bronze medal at the 2019 Chungju World Martial Arts Masterships event which in turn made him the first Indian to win a fight at an IFMA event. He defeated Ahsan Shahzad of Pakistan and Jhao Cyun Ciou of Chinese Taipei at the event to clinch the medal.

“That gave me a big boost to my Muay Thai career and that changed the scenario for me. So that was a very big moment for me and the moment was more cherishable because when I came back to India with the medal all of my family, friends were there to welcome me at the airport and that gave me a big boost and after that, in Muay-Thai many countries are taking us seriously, like because I mean we have performed excellent after that and before that also we were performing really good and many other athletes like Kavya Kirodian, Dhwani Advani, Anil Mehta all of these people were like performing extraordinarily,” he says.

While hearing the national anthem standing on the podium is one thing, there is another fight memory that Ashish holds close to his heart.

“The competitive Pro fights in Thailand were like a new thing for me entering the International stage and so I learned a lot from that fight. So the memory of this fight was I learned a lot because there was no experience before that and fighting on a stage because having so many people around like all the foreigners watching you fight, around 1000 people watching you fight or maybe 500 people watching you fight, like betting at the same time so that was a new thing for me,”

Transition to MMA and future plans

Even though Ashish’s focus remains on Muay-Thai, he tested waters in MMA as well and ended up winning his first MMA fight with a first-round stoppage. Being from Haryana where wrestling is deep-rooted, it was something that came to him naturally and he is indeed open to having more MMA fights.

Everything said and done, there are still hurdles that are in front of Ashish.

“The hurdles I’m facing are that we will have the shortage of funds or sponsors right now because of the Covid. I’m a sponsored fighter but then at the same time I’m having the issues of funds because we need more money for everything like to go and train outside India and fees is high and then you have to get good nutrition and you don’t get often fights so you have to fight once in a month so you’re not getting that much of money. So these are the hurdles till the time we don’t get everything,” he says.

Despite these setbacks, Ashish has a positive mindset and has a clear-cut goal in front of him.

“The biggest motivation is to play for your country and represent your country at the biggest stage and I hope to bring laurels to the country” he concluded.

Also Read: Genetic Disorder to Money: How Ning Gogoi is fighting the odds for his dreams

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