Daniel Isaac is the founding member of the All India Mixed Martial Arts Association (AIMMAA). Isaac began his martial arts journey at the tender age of 5 under the tutelage of his late father Soloman Isaac. After an illustrious career that included a gold medal at the WAKO Kickboxing Olympics held in Crimea in 1994 and a perfect amateur record, Isaac has been one of the driving forces behind the growth of MMA in India. He founded the AIMMAA, which is the only promotion in the country sanctioned by the government to conduct amateur and professional MMA events nationwide. Since its founding, AIMMAA is also a representative for the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) in India.
In an exclusive interview with The Ring Side View, Isaac talks about the state of MMA in India, its future and the AIMMA’s plans for the years to come.
What plans do you have to grow the sport of MMA in India?
Between the year 2000 and 2011 I was taking a dual role within AIMMAA, both as an event commissioner and an event promoter / organizer. This in principle wasn’t supposed to happen but it was a necessity, during that period there were NO MMA promoters in India and the sport was being promoted by myself and a handful of MMA officials and instructors and their students from across India.
Today however the situation is different: After the Super Fight League launched in India it created opportunities for numerous fighters, trainers, gyms and smaller promoters to enter into the MMA market. In fact prior to 2012 there was no MMA market. Thus today [post 2012] I am happy to stay within my role as AIMMAA National commissioner to oversee and ensure that through AIMMAA all MMA promoters whether amateur or pro are adhering to the norms of Health safety and Sport, we are doing our best to maintain the highest standards of health and safety with every MMA promoter that seeks a sanction from the All India Mixed Martial Arts Association. In fact the entire outlook on Indian MMA has changed.
What are the major obstacles facing MMA in India?
Honestly, I don’t see any actual obstacles in the way of our growth with the sport, if at all any hurdle does exist it would be a stereotype bias and ignorance towards the sport in general. The UFC held its first event on Nov 12th 1993 and that was the beginning of MMA in the US and for the most part of the MMA world, the first MMA event ever held in India was on 29th Feb 2004. It’s evident that the western world has had a earlier head start to us and the number of shows and their consistency in hosting back to back events as compared to the number of events held in India are not comparable. India got its first experience with sanctioned / world class MMA only in 2012 through the Super Fight League, India still needs time to grow and develop with the sport, and there is no other route to a successful development of the sport in India unless we go through the proper experience and evolution of the sport in India. I can make this interview sound like a typical India sportsperson would and say “the major obstacle facing MMA in India is lack of funding” but that would be nonsense, there is enough money in India for sports development and even a non-Olympic sport like MMA has enough investors and sponsors who are ready, willing and able, it’s just a matter of time for the right people to put their heads together and make a foolproof business viable format for the sport in India, mark my words.
How far are we, realistically, from seeing an Indian fighter compete in the UFC or Bellator?
We’re both far and close it depends on whether Bellator or the UFC wants to invest in Indian talent. Modern MMA is all about careful and selective matchmaking, and if either the UFC or Bellator wants to properly promote Indian MMA athletes they could build them properly by carefully developing their records through a steady growth in similarly experienced opponents and gradually developing their skills through properly channeled training camps. Unfortunately, neither the UFC nor Bellator have seriously considered entering into the Indian market, Over the last few months the UFC has begun to explore Indian talent by sponsoring a few fighters to attend their fighter development program in the US, unfortunately that hasn’t borne fruit as yet and according to my sources that project has further discouraged the UFC from entering India. Currently the only promotion in the world dedicated to developing and promoting Indian MMA talent is the Super Fight League.
If there was only one thing you could change about MMA in India, what would it be?
I would cast a spell on the entire Indian population and eradicate Cricket (Laughs), No seriously though, that’s what I would do. Cricket has stolen everything from every sport and every sportsperson in India. And even the national sport of Hockey is left far behind we shouldn’t be complaining about Indian MMA with the kind of achievements collectively attained over the years.
Do you see MMA becoming a mainstream sport in the near future?
We need more MMA promoters to enter into Indian MMA and invest into Mixed Martial Arts, It’s only when we get to watch different MMA brands on different sports channels that the sport will start to take root in India.
I don’t think we’re too far from MMA getting mainstream recognition in India, first mainstream recognition, then more people training for MMA fitness across the country, then athletes getting through to higher level events , then Indian athletes winning at big events , then Indian athletes getting non-fight deals similar to Dhruv getting a Skoda ad and Ritika Singh getting the lead role in Sala Khadoos, only then could we even remotely think of MMA as a mainstream sport.
Do you have any plans in place to aid foreign promoters in staging fights in India?
I will say that any MMA organization that seeks to enter the Indian MMA market should apply for a sanction from the All India Mixed Martial Arts Association. We already have been exchanging a healthy communication with UFC, Bellator and WSOF and WSOF Global.
What extra measures are you taking for fighter safety?
Here is the typical protocol followed for every sanctioned MMA event in India under AIMMAA: 1] Fighters are required to apply for licenses under AIMMAA and these licenses are renewed on a yearly basis 2] Part of the license application process has pre-requisites of fighter medical screenings which ensure that the fighter is eligible to compete in MMA, For pro fights a fighter needs to be a minimum of 18 years of age. 3] Three days prior to an actual event the fighters are further subject to medical tests to ensure no recent history of brain trauma or exposed to contagious diseases 4] At every AIMMAA sanctioned event we ensure the presence of paramedics and cardiac ambulances accompanied by an experienced panel of on-site doctors, most AIMMAA sanctioned events in India feature the attendance of Dr Dilip Nadkarni one of the foremost authorities on MMA safety in India. 5] At the actual fights we ensure that ONLY the most experienced MMA referees are supervising the bouts – this is one of the most important features of fighter safety 6] Lastly we ensure that all MMA promoters provide fighter insurance, this usually covers up to 5 lacs for cashless hospitalization and up to 15 lacs per fighter for post fight medical treatment including tests and surgeries
Which young Indian fighters should we be keeping our eye on?
India is the land of a billion people, there is so much talent arriving on the MMA scene across the nation at amateur events every month however these are some of the cream of the crop that is making a mark for themselves and moving towards another genre of Indian MMA fighters. Govind Singh, Dhruv Chaudhary, Daisy, Bharti Dhoundiyal, Sandeep Yadav, Sandeep Kumar, Arshiyan Menon and Amit Kumar are some of the fighters to watch out for this year
With the lack of opportunities for Indian fighters to compete mixed in with low pay, how will you convince a young adult to pursue a career in mixed martial arts in India?
I will go ahead and disagree with your question … There is good pay available for Indian MMA fighters if they choose to compete at an AIMMAA sanctioned MMA event, if they choose to fight for shady MMA promoters who are only interested to earn a fast buck-one-punch-wonder-event they are risking themselves to low pay, a dangerous deal and inexperienced uncertified officials to say the least.
Furthermore what’s important for athletes to understand is that there is a progressive pathway from a martial arts dojo to the professional MMA arena and this doesn’t happen overnight \, once a student attains the right amount of knowledge and training he / she should enter into sport MMA : http://www.AIMMAA.org/sport-MMA.html , furthermore because of our affiliation with the IMMAF [http://www.IMMAF.org/ ] amateur MMA athletes have a platform in India through national / international level amateur MMA tournaments / championships like the BodyPower India Open MMA Championships [http://www.IMMAF.org/AIMMAA-sanctions-99-bouts-at-bodypower-india-open/ ] this progressive competition pathway exists from a club level competition all the way up to the world championships of MMA which happens every year in Las Vegas. Thus as you see in the above summary there is so much more to achieve and build a foundation on prior to an MMA athlete entering the professional MMA circuit. And Yes, a proper foundation will help fighters get into proper sanctioned events in India which lucrative deals and meaningful winning incentives.
If you could enforce any rule change in MMA today, what would it be?
I’m happy with the existing unified rules for pro events and IMMAF rules for amateur shows, what we need is more officials and referee panels to follow a standard set of criteria for stoppages, one referee would stop a fight too fast while another would allow unnecessary punishment and a late stoppage. Marc Goddard is one of the most seasoned and disciplined MMA officials by far, I would like to see him as the head for all worldwide sanctioned MMA bouts.
Is getting promotions like the UFC, Bellator and World Series of Fighting a priority for you going forward?
As mentioned previously we have been in talks with UFC, Bellator and WSOF / WSOF Global, they are all interested to enter the Indian MMA market yet they are wary on the investment / return / loss-risk of that first big MMA event in India under their banner, For me and for AIMMAA we will do our best to partner with every leading MMA promoter who is interested not just to promote in India but to invest equally into the development / grooming and talent-building of Indian MMA athletes.
What can we expect from Indian MMA over the next 5 years?
Within the next 5 years all three of the above listed MMA promotions [ UFC , Bellator and WSOF Global ] would have already done a few [ or at least one ] shows in India , A few Indian MMA athletes would have already competed at the UFC , India would have already attained its first few gold medals at the World MMA Championships and most importantly we would see the mainstream combat sports athletes from Boxing , Wrestling and Judo making their way to professional MMA in India once they have completed a successful career in their respective disciplines.
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