Bringing MMA to India
British businessman and philanthropist Bill Dosanjh and professional boxer Amir Khan came together to start ‘Super Fight League’ (SFL). Formed in 2012...
British businessman and philanthropist Bill Dosanjh and professional boxer Amir Khan came together to start ‘Super Fight League’ (SFL). Formed in 2012 with an intent to give Indian mixed martial artists a platform to compete and hone their talent in their country of origin whilst bringing in talented fighters from different parts of the world, SFL is a revolutionary approach to combat and is the first MMA organisation to feature women fighters.
The SFL features a total of 96 players and 8 teams including Mumbai Maniacs, Haryana Warriors, Delhi Heroes , Gujarat Warriors, UP Nawabs Sher-e-Punjab, Tamil Veerans and Bengaluru Tigers. Some of the stories of these players who come from the smaller districts with minimal resources of India are quite inspirational
What was the idea behind bringing MMA to India?
I hail from a wrestling family, hence sports has always been my innate calling. I am trained in karate, boxing and MMA, so starting off something like Super Fight League was a dream. I always wanted to create a platform for the millions of martial artists whose talent went unnoticed and unrecognised.
The idea behind bringing MMA to India was to give the Indian fighters a commercial platform to showcase their talent and cultivate a new wave of MMA fighters for the four billion dollar industry. We believe that for any sport to grow in a country, it should be present at the grass root level. In India, ‘Kushti’ (wrestling) is the only traditional sport that falls into this category. Currently, India is home to around 10 million fighters, many coming from a Kushti background. Movies like ‘Sultan’, ‘Dangal’, etc have made the sport mainstream today.
What kind of challenges did you face while doing that?
MMA is one of the most commercialised sports in the world along with boxing but the lack of awareness in India is apparent. I remember sitting in the Indira Gandhi stadium for SFL 3—it was a full house with 15,000 people and people thought it was a WWE event. Moreover, when people hear of this sport, at first they have varied apprehensions about it. They think of it as a blood sport. Changing their perception about the sport was challenging. I believe that was a gap I saw but now with the popularity, the first season got, I am quite optimistic about the Indian market.
How do you scout for talent?
Talent is selected through Mixed Martial Arts State and National Bodies and is exclusively signed with our partner talent management company Super Stars. India’s first MMA reality show – SFL Challengers has also been another platform for getting in talent, a few success stories where SFL Talent has gone into the mainstream entertainment scene in India speak for itself. Ritika Singh, a discovery of SFL Challengers has been a part of a Raj Kumar Hirani film ‘Saala Khadoos’ while Dhruv Chaudhary will be seen in ‘Baaghi 2’, our trainers and fighters have trained Bollywood stars such as Shahid Kapoor, Zarine Khan for different MMA action roles in Bollywood movies such as ‘Do Lafzon Ki Kahani’ and ‘Bombay Velvet’.
Tell us about the partnership with Amir Khan.
The partnership with Amir Khan is a very special one. He is a brother first then a partner and an amazing humble human being. He is the Chairman of SFL and plays an integral part in promoting the league in different countries owing to his global popularity. I think after Pacquaio and Mayweather, Amir is one of the most famous boxers internationally.
I have in some ways lived the dream through him. He is aware of the popularity of MMA in the US and UK and wants to build it here in India. I was initially running various businesses spanning industries like real estate and construction in India, UK, and the Middle East. During this time I established East West Sports, a company that launched Amir Khan's career in the United States, starting with a bang at Madison Square Garden. My close involvement with Amir’s career provided insight into the world of combat sports and then there was no looking back.
You have done several live shows in the USA, how do you think the American and Indian MMA scenario is different?
The US, of course, has pioneered the broadcasting of the sport. However, social media numbers in India have actually been very positive. You log onto Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, the numbers for SFL are very high. Both are very different, but as I said the core fundamentals are same, and we are expecting it to only get better. Unlike UFC, the added plus is that the SFL has fight nights Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which makes the sport more accessible, but increases the weekly revenue threefold.
In cricket-watching nation like India, how will SFL create a mark?
We are already the second most watched sport digitally in terms of viewership on YouTube with 60 per cent of the population under the age of 25. Having garnered over a whopping 100 million views in five years for 67 live televised events, the league has also garnered support from the corporate world and includes team owners of the likes of Amit Burman, Keshav Bansal, Aditya Munjal amongst others. Generally, when you leave the stadium after a football or cricket match your connection with the players ends. But with SFL you won’t be disconnected, you’ll be able to develop a bond with the fighters. This is because, over the next five years, each franchisee in the SFL is contracted to develop five gyms in their team’s city. These gyms will be where the SFL fighters train, as well as, where the SFL fighters will train others.
How does roping in of celebrities help the league?
Eventually, the sport has generated fascination and we see more participation from youngsters whose role models are Bollywood actors. For a country like India, I believe endorsements work really well and hence, the Bollywood connect has been a thing that worked for us as well.
The popularity of movies based on MMA has only added value to the sport. The first season had a reach of about 100 million-odd, through celebrity co-owners and their social media engagements.