Varun Dhawan’s energy is quite palpable when he walks into a room: talk of him being the most active person on set isn’t just talk, he really does bring the room together and completely turns on the charm.
We meet him in Abu Dhabi, where the Badlapur star can’t contain his excitement —it’s quite disarming to see an actor in fanboy mode around his icons —as he’s hours away from watching his first UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) event live.
“I can’t wait! I’ve never had a chance to watch a fight in person, and now I’m with two of my best friends here to watch Khabib vs Poirier. UAE has many special memories for me and is close to my heart… we shot Dishoom in Abu Dhabi, while my next film Street Dancer 3D had schedules in Dubai,” he tells us, ahead of travelling to the strapping Du Arena in Yas Island, where UFC 242 was scheduled.
The actor, who is currently shooting for his dad David Dhawan’s film Coolie No 1 (the remake of Govinda’s 1995 superhit), has taken a short break from the sets to attend the event. Though reluctant to answer any film-related queries, Varun’s happy to talk to us about why MMA has become such an integral part of his life.
“My love for mixed martial arts started around five to six years ago, and I must confess it came with me watching UFC on television. Be it athletes like Anderson Silva, Conor McGregor, or now Khabib… I’ve spent hours checking out their earlier fights, understanding the different kinds of techniques they use, and been thoroughly motivated. That’s why I’m such an ardent fan today!” he begins, confessing that he supports Khabib Nurmagomedov now in UFC.
- UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is the largest MMA promotion company in the world, and has grown to hold over 400 events globally that have showcased the best MMA athletes across nationalities. The different techniques used in mixed martial arts today have originated from several fighting disciplines and combat sports like boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, sambo, wrestling, Muay Thai, and karate.
- Boasting of a huge fan base, even in India, fighters such as reigning Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, Henry Cejudo Tony Ferguson have attracted support worldwide and are some of the most marketable athletes in modern-day sport.
- A multi-billion-dollar enterprise today, UFC is headed by Dana White. The first event was held in 1993 at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, while the latest pay-per-view event was UFC 242 held at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on September 7, 2019.
- After weeks of an extensive social media campaign and controversy surrounding the earlier UFC 229 fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, UFC 242 was billed up to be one of MMA’s most anticipated events.
- The latest event was headlined by a match between current champion, the Russian Khabib and interim champion from USA, Dustin Poirier. Khabib ended up successful, defending his opponent via submission with a rear-naked choke, much to the delight of his followers. With 28 wins and no losses, he now holds the longest undefeated streak in MMA history.
- The next event in the UFC roster, UFC 243: Whittaker vs. Adesanya is scheduled to be held in October in Melbourne, Australia.
Varun is admired by fans and peers alike for being one of Bollywood’s fittest young stars —all those shirtless pics on Instagram don’t create themselves. He answers that the training routines from UFC are something that keep him motivated constantly: “I mean, it’s insane right? Working out for 16 hours a day, dealing with injuries, their recovery process... I see these videos on YouTube and as a performer, I’m inspired as hell.”
So much so, that he’s even incorporated some of his favourite MMA ‘moves’ in his films. “Haha, yes, the ‘Superman Punch’ is something I’ve tried in my stunts. Anthony Pettis from UFC has several moves I like to try out. The roundhouse kick and armbar are other favourites. But I haven’t done an out-and-out action film as yet. When I do one, my love for MMA will certainly show in it!”
Having said that, Varun admits that he tries to keep a balance in his film choices: be it commercial ventures like David Dhawan’s Judwaa 2 or intense outings like Shoojit Sircar’s October that won the actor a host of awards. “My attention span changes constantly, so I’m always looking to try something new, master a different skill. I’m relatively still new to the industry and there’s plenty of time for me to experiment.”
Quoting another sportsperson, cricket Sachin Tendulkar as the one athlete whose career has always pushed him to keep persevering, Varun signs off with a word on the growing mixed martial arts scene in India: “It’s an emerging market in our country, and we have such incredible talent. We have the second largest population in the world; it’s just a matter of time before we unearth someone who can make it on the biggest stage of them all. I hope every aspirant there is training and keeps dreaming!”
Varun Dhawan was in Abu Dhabi to watch UFC 242 live on the invitation of Sony Pictures Sports Network and UFC. Sony Pictures Sports Network is the official broadcaster of UFC in India. The writer was in Abu Dhabi on invitation from Sony Pictures Sports Network.