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Ladakh Muslim youth put UT on map of sports, shine in Mixed Martial Arts

Ladakh youth win medals at the mixed martial arts championships in Mumbai (Photo: M Anas)

M Anas

Ladakh, now the Union Territory, has registered its name on national stage for reasons other than Kashmir conflict and continued Line of Actual Control (LAC) standoff with China. Three-youth team from the UT has gained third position at the National Mixed Martial Arts Championship held in Mumbai this week. The team won a total of four medals — one gold, one silver and two bronzes.

Murtaza Ali Khuddam has won the Gold Medal in the 79 kg category by knocking down his opponent in the 1st round of the final match. Other medallists are Ali Akbar and Mohammed Hasnain.

However, beneath the story of glory lies a tale of utmost grit, determination and willpower to fight against all odds of desperation. Times Headline spoke to gold-medallist Murtaza Ali Khuddam and his coach Mahdi Nasiri to know their journey and travails they faced.

Nasiri and Khuddam both hail from rural areas of Kargil district in Ladakh.

Mahdi said that he has been a UFC Mixed Martial Arts fighter for long and now coaches and mentors youth who nurture dreams to pursue this difficult sport as their career. “I developed passion for this game by watching and reading about international stars and began to self-train myself since my teen age. Slowly, when I gained enough confidence, I contacted senior sportsmen of my area and region. They were impressed with my self-taught abilities and coached me further. Then, on someone’s advice, I went to Iran and spent five years there, learning and participating in various competitions,” said Nasiri.

He added that when Bollywood personalities, Raj Kundra and Shilpa Shetty, organised Super Fight League in 2012, he participated in it and won a gold medal. “Besides, I also won medals in some other events, but it didn’t change much in life as this sport is not widely played and promoted in India. Plus, the required facilities are scarcely available. Others and I used to practice on our own in a makeshift arena and by watching videos of the game. There was no support from the government nor from any private organisation. Yes, some individuals used to lend support as per their capacity,” said Mahdi. Mahdi shared with us some videos that showed him practising and training in a makeshift arena covered with polyethylene sheets to save players from cold.

Despite few facilities in his hometown, Mahdi has adopted coaching new players as his profession. “I hope our performance in MMAFI would improve things. It has already caught attention of the government.

Lieutenant Governor RK Mathur in a tweet has appreciated the team for the brilliant performance particularly of Murtaza Ali Khuddam. Local federation for MMA too is upbeat and would definitely help in uplifting the game and lives of players,” said Mahdi.

Sharing Mahdi’s despair and hopes is Murtaza Ali Khuddam, the gold-medallist and star of the tournament. “We grew up watching international star Khabib and Mahdi Bhai playing this very difficult sport. They have been our inspiration. Whatever the art of fighting I know, I have learnt from Mahdi Bhai, whether it is Elbow strike, ground and pound, back control, arm bar, sprawl, etc. As he told you, we had nothing in the name of facilities except a makeshift arena or open fields. But, we had a lot of determination to prove our mettle and know that once we’ll make our mark, our path will be illuminated. See, today as we returned to our hometown, around 200 vehicles came to welcome and accompany us to our home. We hope this euphoria will earn attention for MMA in our country too,” Khuddam told us, while on his way from Srinagar to Ladakh.

He also said that one thing that is required most urgently for a MMA fighter is physical strength. “That we had built by following a certain diet regime suggested by Mahdi Bhai,” he said.

The Mixed Martial Arts championship was organised by the Mixed Martial Arts Federation of India (MMAFI).

Khuddam, who is the youngest of three siblings in the family, said he or other MMA players from his town did not receive any support from the Ladakh Sports authorities. “But, we were not and are not hopeless. Our medal-earning performance will pave the way for a better future. The government will wake up too,” he shared his hope.

(Anas is New Delhi based Journalist)