Of kicks and glory

Chennai boy Syed Abdul Nazzeur makes India proud by winning the bronze medal at the 2016 Mixed Martial Arts World Championship

Updated - December 03, 2016 04:06 pm IST

Published - November 29, 2016 05:00 pm IST

It’s been just a few hours since Syed Abdul Nazzeur landed in Chennai from Macao. Jet-lagged and bleary-eyed, he’s running in and out of photo shoots and interviews. “I feel like a star. Last night, television channels were at the airport to interview me. And I’ve received so many Facebook friend requests!” he grins.

The 21-year-old is just back after winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Mixed Martial Arts World Championship — the first Indian to win a title on this global platform. He participated in the welter (under 77 kg) category. He beat an opponent from Uzbekistan to make it to the semi-finals, where he lost to Russian Rasulov Alibeg, winner of last year and this year’s world title.

Abu (as he is fondly called) started out as a boxer, but had to give up the sport as a result of a broken wrist. “The doctor said I will break my knuckles if I continued. I gave it a rest for around six months. That’s when a friend introduced me to Ajit Sigamani’s MMA classes at Combat Kinetics. I joined and found that I was in really poor form. I couldn’t even last the first half hour of warm-up. I would faint and throw up. It took me five months to get in shape and this is my passion now,” says Abu.

He says that when he started practising MMA, he was arm-barred in one of the matches. Furious at not being able to defend himself, he started working on grappling. According to his coach Ajit, grappling and striking are now his best moves.

The toughest thing, Abu says, is going back to class after getting hit. Meanwhile, Ajit adds, “A lot of people think you can break your nose when you join MMA. It’s not so: there’s always protective gear. We take your body to the level of pain it can handle. If you do get punched in the face, you’re likely to get a bruise, but it’ll be fine in a day or two. I think football is more dangerous, because if you get injured in a match, you’re out of action for five months.”

MMA involves a mix of moves from other sports such as jujitsu, kick-boxing, muay thai, judo, sambo, among others. According to Ajit, the sport is not about showing off fancy moves but instead about learning to use what’s effective.

Of the four representatives from India this year, two were Ajit’s students. The other being Lenin Prakash who participated in the featherweight (under 65 kg) category. While a lot of models, actors, students and IT employees pursue MMA to get fit, only about one in 1,000 turn into combat athletes. “My fight team now comprises 15-20 kids (in the age group of 17 to 20) who are training seriously,” says Ajit, who wishes to see more people taking up this competitive sport. He says that participants in other countries don’t have to worry about anything but their training, as the government takes care of everything for them. “Now, with Abu winning a medal, we can approach the Government for sponsorships,” says Ajit.

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