Three years ago, India sent its first contingent to the IMMAF World Championships. Among them was Kantharaj, who has now moulded himself into one of the top mixed martial artists in the country.
The World Championships, often held as a part of International Fight Week, provide the amateur fighters from around the globe the opportunity to compete at the highest level. The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) held its first World Championships — a landmark event in the world of mixed martial arts, back in 2014.
Three years since first taking the audacious step, to rub shoulders with the world’s elite, AIMMAA will embark on yet another monumental journey. This year’s team will include Nishigandha Rao, who will make history by becoming the first female fighter from India to compete at the Championships.
Nishigandha on overcoming the hardships and balancing the work load
The major hurdle facing the athletes in our country is the lack of proper infrastructure for collegiate athletes, especially in the combat sports arena. Unlike countries such as the United States, where the athletes are given the platform to thrive, and thus make a successful transition professionally, our country needs a systemic overhaul.
“Focusing on the game was a bit difficult for me as I have to manage time for both studies and sports”, Nishigandha told us, as she prepares to represent India at the Championships in November. “As for now I am in first year, doing a degree in Arts which includes NCC training and studies as well. I have got a lot of support from college and family and that is the reason why I am able to do everything so efficiently.”
Coming from a kickboxing background, foraying into mixed martial arts was anything but easy for Rao. Her impressive list of accomplishments consist of multiple gold medals in national kickboxing tournaments, and also clinching the bronze at the Asian Championships in 2015.
Rao excelled during the recent trials held in Bengaluru, to select the athletes who would represent India in Bahrain. Nishigandha made her amateur MMA debut back in March 2016, defeating her opponent with relative ease. However, the journey has just begun for Nishigandha, and the youngster has a good head on her shoulders, and is pragmatic about the task at hand.
The magnitude of the task ahead, and the reward
For a teenager that still has a long way to go in the sport, an occasion of this magnitude can be daunting. The tougher the test, the greater the reward, and Nishigandha understands that while she may not be the most experienced fighter to step inside the cage, she certainly has the opportunity to learn, and gain some invaluable experience at the World Championships.
“Being a martial artist, I was never taught to be weak”, Nishigandha explained. “I was taught to have self discipline, patience, resilience and a heart full of courage.
This tournament will give me a lot of experience and will be benefiting in every aspect, as meeting winners all across the globe is a privilege.”