Mixed Martial Arts: Pakistan versus Afghanistan – a ‘patriotically personal’ match!

Published: February 18, 2014
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I couldn’t be happier after attending the PAKMMA event and knowing that a full contact sport was brewing under the covers. PHOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE (www.facebook.com/FightingAlliance)

In spite of there being many local wrestling akharas (training hall for martial artists) in Pakistan where desi pehlwan’s dish it out, as well as a number of martial arts schools, a match between the two different styles of fighters was never heard of in the country.

Being a fan of full contact sports, I found the recent decline in martial arts, kabbadi and wrestling events to be very disappointing. Growing up, I was used to watching these three sports on national TV but then it all faded into oblivion.

On the other hand, in the rest of the world a new full contact sport was on the rise that included wrestling, grappling and striking techniques borrowed from different forms of martial arts. It was called Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and it began in the early 90s as a televised sport and became regulated in the late 90s to make it less ‘dangerous’.

When I saw some matches on YouTube about three years ago, it was love at first sight.

It was a combination of all the three sports that I had been a fan of while growing up and it immediately brought back fond memories. 

The beginning

While MMA has been an established sport in many parts of the world for a while, it only started taking root in Pakistan a couple of years ago. Although there were many independent martial arts schools and coaching centres, Pakistanis were introduced to the MMA by Bashir Ahmed about five years ago. His passion for MMA brought him from the United States to Pakistan, where he currently heads the Synergy MMA Academy in Lahore. He is also a featured fighter in the Asian version of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) known as One Fighting Championship.

The PAKMMA fight alliance

Photo: Nauman Shafique

As the MMA slowly and surely crept in to the underground scene in Pakistan, more and more MMA academies emerged. The MMA is a brotherhood all over the world and similarly, in Pakistan that brotherhood gave birth to the PAKMMA Fight Alliance. It is an MMA promotion by the fighters for the fighters. It serves as a breeding ground for upcoming talent that can represent Pakistan at the One Fighting Championship and internationally.

The main participants in this promotion are Synergy MMA Academy, Team Fight Fortress, Pakido Gujar Khan (GK), Team 3G Karachi, The A-Team Lahore, Team K-7 Karachi, Elite MMA Rawalpindi and a few other smaller gyms.

The PAKMMA fight alliance second round

The PAKMMA Fight Alliance held its second major event in Lahore on February 2, 2014. This was perhaps the most important event in MMA’s short history in Pakistan. While the first event had built hype, it had left a lot to be desired. However, this time things were as perfect as they could have been.

The venue was great, there were scores of screaming fans, media coverage, corporate sponsors, screaming fans, fighters from all over the country, fighters from Afghanistan, some sweet old vengeance and did I mention screaming fans?

All in all, the event featured nine fights, starting from amateur fighters and moving on to professional bouts featuring Afghan fighters versus Pakistan’s best MMA opponents.

The amateur bouts

There were four amateur bouts to kick off the event. Featured in these bouts were up-and-coming fighters from across Pakistan including 14-year-old Amir Pasha who is a student of Waqar Umar, the Pakistani fighter heading the main event. The thing with amateur fighters is that they never get the credit they deserve.

However, in my humble opinion, these novice warriors are the ones who bear the brunt of a hostile crowd, they are the ones who rile them up, they are the ones who get the fire going and thus, deserve the same respect, if not more. Surprisingly, the wild crowd cheered them on as if they were watching a professional fight and it was simply awesome.

First up was Omar Hashmi from The A–Team Lahore against Basit Ali, an independent fighter. Omar took home this one via a Technical Knock-out (TKO), even though he was punched really hard, as is apparent in the picture.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

Up next was Ali Shehper from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) against M Abdullah, another independent fighter. Ali, (on the right) won the bout after some hard knocks via TKO.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

The next fight was between Amir Pasha, the 14-year-old protégé of Waqar Umar from Synergy MMA Academy  and Irfan Ahmed, another independent fighter. Amir (on the right) won by a unanimous decision after a gruelling fight. It was awesome to see young blood dish it out.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

The last amateur fight of the night featured Mohsin Ali, also known as Stick Man from Synergy MMA Academy and Muhammad Ali from Pakido GK.

This particular fight was on the brink of being a professional one with both fighters being well-tuned and displaying some good skills. The fight really went the distance and Mohsin took it by a unanimous decision in the end.

With that axe kick in the air, I wonder who wouldn’t vote for him.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

The boys with the jabs and hammers

The next three fights featured some seasoned fighters. If these guys were on a steak menu, you’d call them ‘rare – done just right’.

This category also featured the first cross-border bout of the night. First up was my second favourite bout of the evening. The fight featured Faizan Khan of Team Fight Fortress against M Imran of Pakido GK. Both these fighters were very well-trained. The punches they threw left a few battle scars on both their faces.

This fight clearly went the distance and saw the most punches thrown and landed.

By the end of the bout, Faizan (green and black trunks) had popped his shoulder. The fight went to a decision after three furious rounds and Faizan took this one home for his team.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

The next fight was between the Afghan fighter M Naeem of the International Hoshafaru Federation and M Shahid of Pakido GK. This was an intense bout and may well have been a headliner, had it not been stopped due to injury. Although the fight began well enough, with both fighters trading blows, Shahid got Naeem in the cross-arm bar which he held till the end of the round.

Naeem fought through the pain and slammed Shahid at least four times while in that lock. Both fighters showed amazing endurance. Naeem didn’t let the arm bar faze him while Shahid took four body slams on the shoulder and neck and quite a few hammer fists. At the end of the first round, as both fighters sat in their corners, the referee called over the doctor to check out Shahid’s eye.

The doctor gave him the finger count routine and since he couldn’t respond correctly, the fight was called off. Shahid lost his composure at this point and understandably so. However, while I understood the dismay of this great fighter at being told to quit, he should have been more professional than running around in a fit of rage asking for the fight to continue.

Kudos to M Naeem for fighting this one and winning it.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

Up next was such an evenly matched fight that at the end of it, both fighters lay flat on their backs in the centre of the ring.

Yes, it was that exhausting!

Since this was the last fight before the co-main event fights, these boys had to live up to the expectations.

It was Awais ‘The Assassin’ Raja from Synergy MMA Academy against Ahmed Mujtaba from the Team Fight Fortress. He looked like the Wolverine – although not his official handle – and he also fought like one.

This was a fight where the crowd didn’t sit quietly even for a second. Both fighters went at each other like the other had stolen something precious from him. Punch after punch, take downs, neck locks, knees – basically everything except the kitchen sink was used in the first round.

Although both fighters got clocked hard, they recovered well in the second round.

By the third round, the gas tanks were running on fumes from both of them. And then they went at it again – one last time.

Awais got thrown on his back with Ahmed right on top, who then let his fists do the talking in one last flurry of punches that took everything out of him. The referee stepped in and stopped the fight but the winner could hardly stand. He collapsed in the centre of his ring along with his opponent.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

Enter the big boys

If Fight Alliance Two was an earthquake, we had now reached its epicentre. The next two fights were professional, personal, patriotic and just too darn awesome. Our Afghan brothers had kicked our rears in their last trip to Pakistan and the score card read (six-zero) in their favour.

So, in case you didn’t read above, this one was ‘personally patriotic’.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

First up was Uloomi Kareem of Team Fight Fortress against Mujtaba Yousofi of International Hoshafaru Federation. For Uloomi this one was really personal. In the last contest, one of his amateur team mates had ended up with a broken nose, thanks to a spinning forearm by another Afghan Fighter.

This time Uloomi was pumped.

The prep talk and pre-bout hype was touching the roof and as Uloomi walked in, with his opponent already in the ring, he turned back to salute the national flag and then walked to the ring like a boss. The crowd had lost their voices and their minds by now from screaming too much. Uloomi, being one of the top guns in PAKMMA, was welcomed like a rock star.

I think his goatee helped build that persona too.

As the fight began, both fighters stood poised with watchful eyes and not much movement. Uloomi then started moving around being the aggressor while Yousofi, kept a calm posture and took a few hits. The first round saw pretty much a stand-and-deliver fight with both fighters taking some hits. Nevertheless, Uloomi managed to land some really nice punches, kicks and one really hard kick to the ribs that left Yousofi all red and in pain.

As the fighters walked back to their corners at the end of round one, the fight could still go to any one of them.

In the second round, they walked in gesturing to the crowd to cheer and the crowd responded. And then they were at it again. Similar to the first round, there were some blows and some escapes that had the crowd on the edge of their seats. But then, Uloomi got clocked really hard. Yousofi moved in and constantly threw knees and punches at Uloomi’s face and head.

And before the audience knew it, Uloomi was down near his corner and not really responding. Yousofi stopped to see if the referee would stop the fight which he didn’t so he moved in for the kill. He landed a couple of hammers which Uloomi didn’t block. The referee then dove in and stopped the fight.

I was heartbroken by this time. One of my favourite fighters – and more importantly – Pakistan had lost.

After the fight, both fighters embraced each other while the crowd cheered on. Yousofi got a dose of Lahori hospitality first-hand as they constantly shook his hand, hugged him and took pictures with him on his way out.

Photo: Nauman Shafique

Last man standing

Then it was the last bout and Pakistan really needed to win this one. The fans needed to see a victory really badly. You could feel it in the air – this had to be ours or else!

It was Waqar Umar of Synergy MMA Academy against Nangyalai Nikzad of the International Hoshafaru Federation. Waqar who is also the boxing coach at Synergy was the last hope against the Afghan ‘wall’ known as Nikzad. In his last outing, Nikzad owned a Pakistani fighter for three straight rounds and won an easy decision. This man had never lost and the confidence was apparent on his face as he stood in the ring waiting for Waqar.

Waqar entered and a sea of supporters and friends walked in behind him. The crowd erupted again and you could feel their hunger for victory. The fight began and after a short exchange, Waqar took it to the ground. He tried a few neck holds but Nikzad managed to escape each time. After one more try Nikzad got out of it and ended up on top. Waqar defended brilliantly, pushed him away and got back to a commanding position. By this time, fans were pulling their hair out. Waqar moved in again and managed to get Nikzad in a rear naked choke. He held it… held it… the crowd could sense a kill…

Photo: Nauman Shafique

After about 10 seconds in to the lock Waqar must have been thinking,

“Go to sleep, this one is mine.”

He kept on holding but suddenly, Nikzad tapped out. The crowd went berserk, stormed the ring with the Afghan still on the mat and lifted Waqar onto their shoulders.

Photo: Umair S. Fazli

All that was missing from this scene was Waqar saying,

 “Aiyyo Adrian – I did it!”

Of course this was my favourite fight of the night.

Last thoughts

As a fan of martial arts movies, the bravado aura of martial arts and local fighting styles, I couldn’t be happier after attending this event and knowing that a full contact sport was brewing under the covers. As a Pakistani, it meant that this would be something we would be able to use at an international level to once again prove that we have great athletes in this country who are capable of competing at the highest level.

Moreover, MMA is a sport that demands extreme physical fitness, proper coaching, training and eating. So the way I look at it, MMA is not only producing fighters, it is producing people who are fanatic about fitness, clean living, staying healthy and know how to defend themselves. And when has that ever been bad for anyone?

So if you want to fight, learn martial arts, grappling and wrestling at the same time or even if you just want to get in shape, look for an MMA academy in your area – you won’t regret it!

Mohsin Hassan

Mohsin Hassan

The author is a customer care professional with over 10 years of experience with an OCD for good CS processes. He is an avid gamer, technology enthusiast, movie/ TV buff and an occasional writer.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.