The SFL was founded by British Business Tycoon Bill Dosanjh and British Pro Boxer & Olympic Champion Amir Khan in 2012. Its intent is giving Indian mixed martial artists a platform to compete and grow in its home country whilst bringing in talented fighters from different parts of the world. They launched their first event on March 11, 2012, which was headlined by Bob ‘The Beast’ Sapp and James ‘The Colossus’ Thompson.
Since its launch, the SFL has become an international promotion with fights held in Dubai and America. However despite its famous backers and well intentioned goals, the SFL has been mired in controversies. Its Indian ambassadors Raj Kundra and Sanjay Dutt have been publically shamed. Kundra lost his IPL team after being caught illegally gambling and Dutt is in prison.
On top of all this, various fighters have stated that they were never paid for their efforts. Charmaine Tweet was famously released by Raj Kundra after complaining about not being paid. After much fan backlash, the matter was closed internally despite a very public dispute.
In an exclusive interview, the SFL’s CEO and founder Bill Dosanjh talks about the state of the promotion today, its long term goals and the allegations of late payments to fighters.
1. What was the inspiration behind the SFL?
We believe that for any sport to grow in a country, it should be present at the grass root level. In India, Khushti (Wrestling) is the only traditional sport that falls into this category. Moreover with India’s shining results in the Olympics, Commonwealth and other international competition platforms, we had the first market mover advantage.
2. What are your goals for the SFL and where do you see the promotion in 5 years?
Super Fight League is currently the biggest MMA Promotion in Asia and third largest in the world. We have been the only MMA Promotion which originated in India in 2012 and within a span of 3 years moved towards the West with regular events in USA, Canada, and UAE. In years to come we plan to go into a few other countries like Mexico, Nigeria and UK. A big news is awaited for the India market to begin with, which will be the first of its kind in the sport of MMA, the same will be replicated in other markets.
3. What promotional plans, if any, do you have to position yourselves as direct competitors to the global powerhouses in MMA such as the UFC or Bellator?
The year 2016 will be a big year for MMA in India and our other markets, we have some huge plans which will enable us to be one of the most prominent MMA promotions in the world. We do not want to wage a war with any MMA Promotion around the world, but yes will give a fair fight.
4. When will the SFL be returning to India?
Super Fight Promotions has been investing considerable amount of money and time to promote the sport in India, we have been reaching out to a niche and influencer category audience segment with closed door only invite events, the mass ones are soon to follow this year.
5. What roles do Raj Kundra and Sanjay Dutt play in the SFL now?
Raj Kundra and Sanjay Dutt have always been well-wishers of the brand, and will continue to support us in more ways than one, currently the brand is being spearheaded by the Principal Founder and CEO, British Indian business tycoon Bill Dosanjh (based out of UAE). British Pro Boxer and Olympic Champion Amir Khan chairs the brand.
6. How active a role does Amir Khan (pictured above) have with the SFL?
Amir Khan is the Chairman of SFL and he plays an integral part in promoting the league in different countries due to his global popularity. Brand SFL gets a huge boost this year with Chairman Amir Khan fighting Canelo Alvarez for the WBC Middleweight Title, the biggest boxing event of this year slated May 7 at Las Vegas.
7. Do you have any response to claims made by fighters, particularly Charmaine Tweet (pictured above) about not getting paid after fighting in the SFL?
SFL as a brand has always been clear on any financial aspect, whether within the brand or with talent who have fought with us. Our partner talent management agency Super Stars will be now managing it centrally across the board.
8. How do you go about identifying fighters to compete in the SFL? What criteria do they have to meet?
SFL has always been a great platform for Indian combat sports talent, the brand has given them an opportunity to be on a global pro circuit. 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 main stream entertainment scene in India speak for itself. Rittika Singh, a discovery of SFL Challengers has been a part of a Raj Kumar Hirani film Saala Khadoos opposite to star actor R Madhavan, our trainers and fighters have trained Bollywood Stars for different MMA action roles in Bollywood movies.
9. Which up and coming Indian fighters do you have your eyes on?
All talent signed with SFL are special and we feel that they represent the best MMA talent in the country.
10 What are the main challenges facing MMA in India today?
Until a couple of years back, the Indian audience perceived this sport as a staged event, however now it’s a different scenario, there is already a huge audience of the sport in the country, our online and social media numbers speak loads about the popularity of the sport in India.
11. Do you see mainstream acceptance of the sport in India in the near future?
MMA is one of the most commercialized sports in the world, along with Boxing, so the silver lining is not too far in India.
12. What will it take for Indian fighters to match up to their foreign counterparts
The SFL talent is all ready to take on international talent. Our trainers and coaches are of international calibre and very soon we will have a global representation
13. You have SFL affiliated gyms in Delhi, do you plan on opening some in Mumbai?
The SFL Gyms model is an unique proposition where fans and lovers of the sport get to interact on a one of one basis with the pro fighters of SFL and learn from them, unlike any other sport which does not offer this opportunity. We currently have gyms set up in New Delhi and Guwahati, a flagship 25000 sqft facility will open in Mumbai in the next couple of months and by mid 2017 there will be gyms set up in every major city of the country.
14. With the lack of quality coaching available to fighters today, are you looking to launch any grass roots initiatives to assist fighters in rounding out their game?
SFL Gyms will be the home base and training camps for not only the pro talent, but also fans and others who would like to take up pro MMA as a career option.
15. Moving away from the fighters for a minute, do you find it difficult to get referees and judges in under developed markets given the limited exposure and low pay of the sport?
We’ve had some world renowned referees and officials to manage the MMA aspect of the league over the years. In India now we have internationally trained referees, judges, cutmen and other officials who operate under the guidance of The All India Mixed Martial Arts Association.
16. Are you looking to tie up with any smaller promotions to provide a pipeline for fighters? If so could you share some details about that?
MMA encapsulates different forms of combat sports forms like Boxing, Wrestling, Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Jiu Jitsu and others. State Level and National Level Clubs & Associations are already in touch with our talent team, to be on a globally renowned professional platform
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