28th April 2017, the atmosphere around Indra Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Kohima was overwhelmed with an air of anticipation and a rush of adrenaline as fight fans jostled their way towards the fight arena to catch the season one finale of the Yodha Fighting Championship. Beating the frenzy, I made my way towards the arena clearing a mini stampede and buffed up bouncers. Once inside the dome, I was swept into a new world pulsing with color, straight into the television universe, almost deliriously expecting to hear the voice of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg launch proceedings of the pre-show hype and match-ups with a style of truculent harangue all their own. The Hexagon, spruced with focus lights demanded immediate attention, an imposition one couldn’t simply ignore but marvel at in awe. The sheer ambiance of the indoors accentuated by the assortment of music incorporated on the sound box makes you wonder if “Braveheart” and other war movies have shown that the audio mix is what allows an audience to experience violence viscerally, than this one in particular was panning out to be one hell of a “cagey” affair. Essentially, it made the whole experience seem culturally crucial.
The Yodha Fighting Championship season finale card was crammed with 38 fights, twelve elimination fights scheduled for the penultimate rounds and six title fights across six weight classes. 17 amateur and professional level exhibition fights including three in the women’s category. Victors of the elimination fights gets a shot at the title to secure the unclaimed amateur belts in the Bantam Weight (57-61 kg), Welter weight (71-77 kg), Light weight (67-70 kg), Feather weight (62-66 kg), Fly weight (49-52 kg) and Straw Weight (below 52 kg) divisions on day two. Rules of the six-sided, chain-linked fence were two three minutes round, if the judges couldn’t decide on the winner after the completion of the second round, a third round ensues to break the tie.
And here we go, it was showtime! Local boy Along Longkumer set the bells ringing and the fans roaring after the referee called a stop to the fight in the 2:55 seconds of the very first round of the opening exhibition fight with a technical knockout win on Subash Chandra. Both fighters traded a few hard exchanges setting the tone for the fight. Two quick left jabs caught Subash unawares with his guard down and dropped him on the mat, for Along it was mere formalities as he went down smothering the wobbly Subash with some good old fashion ground and pound, compelling the referee to spare Subash from the whirl of blows.
ELIMINATION AND TITLE FIGHTS
Basavesh flaunting a sturdy reminiscence of Mark “The Filipino Wreaking Machine” Munoz eased his way to a TKO victory over Zameer Koskani with a flurry of hammerfists with five seconds left on the clock in the first round of the fight. Meanwhile Manthan Rane purged Mohd Shahnawaz with a vicious hook, to see his hands raised by way of knockout in just 27 seconds of the first round in the bantamweight division.
The title fight for the bantamweight between Manthan Rane and Basavesh made all the noises for a quick knockout finish, but if round one turned out to be slugfest than round two was all about the ground game. Two minutes thirty seconds into a grueling second round, Rane maneuvered a fine takedown and skillfully worked his arm under Basavesh’s chin, and there, Pride goeth before a rear naked choke. Lights out for Basavesh meant the bantamweight title belt secured firmly around Rane’s waist.
The duel between Rudransh Azad and Gurjinder Gill saw the fight go to the judges table. Azad’s tight stand-up game summoned with Gill’s failure to take Azad down despite several attempts and no significant strikes landed convinced the judges to dispense Rudransh Azad the win unanimously. Amung Kongyak finished off Anurag Sharma in just 2:11 seconds of the first round with a salvo of short punches, elbows and knees to the body after taking the fight to the mat. It was easy pickings and an early evening off for the smiling assassin.
Fight for the belt in the lightweight category between Rudransh Azad and Amung Konyak could have easily been considered for the main or co-main event of the YFC season finale card, if it wasn’t sparred in the midst of featuring professional bouts. Amung Kongyak’s emergence as the new crowd favorite and Azad’s brawny win over Gurjinder Gill saw the Mumbaikar as an underlining favorite to clinch the title. In the vein of his semi final fight, Amung stepped into the hexagon with the sole intention of finishing the fight early. It was carnage right from the word go as the young Naga fighter came out the aggressor letting loose a series of combinations. Azad however managed to shirk off the incoming heavy hands unruffled, patiently biding his time and settling to land significant strikes on the opponent. Completion of the regulated three rounds of championship fight proved Azad’s shrewd gameplan bore out to be the difference. A unanimous decision victory and the title of the YFC welterweight champion for the brawny Mumbaikar, Rudransh Azad.
Victor Angami made a quick work out of Surya Narayana in the first semi final of the welterweight division with some heavy handed combos forcing the referee to stop the fight in two minutes thirteen seconds of the first round. Meanwhile in the other semifinal fight Syed Abu Nazzeur was forced to pull out midway through the first round owing to a dislocated shoulder on the advice of the ring-side doctors. Not much of a sweat shed for the eventual winner Suyash Jadhav.
If styles make fights, the title fight between knockout artist Victor Angami and mat brawler Suyash Jadhav for the YFC welterweight belt indicated all the warnings to be a great one. Individually both fighters had equal burnished moments on their feet but Victor’s refusal to scuffle on the mat even when he had Jadhav down on his back a few times eventually saw Jadhav scrap the welterweight title belt by a split decision after three rounds of intense back-and-forth tussle. It would have been a surreal date with destiny for Victor had he taken the road he tried to avoid.
Dipesh Rasal failed to impress the judges in a three grueling three minute rounds against Shantanu Pujari, losing the fight by a majority decision in the first semifinal fight. A dogfhight on the feet, followed by the inability of both fighters to finish off his opponent on the ground saw the fight eventually go to the judges table. Following the early wins of two of his teammates from The Combat Academy, Imkong Jamir came into the fight with a reinforced desire to stretch his team’s win streak against Lenin Prakash, another gritty contender in the YFC featherweight division. Imkong stated his intention clear cornering Lenin to the fence and down on the floor with a sequence of jabs, hooks and leg kicks. Lenin had brief moments of dominance but not quite enough to stir the judges. Imkong smooth-sailed pass Lenin for the title fight with a unanimous decision victory after two rounds.
Shantanu Pujari stepped into the hexagon to assert his credibility for the YFC featherweight belt against local lad Imkong Jamir on the back of a taxing semi final bout that went to the judges’ counter after three bursting rounds. Imkong with a fairly comfortable two round decision win strode inside the cage seemingly relaxed and poised as the thunderous crowd cheered on. The amateur Naga contender dictated the pace as he swamped Pujari with a string of stiff combinations, demonstrating a flawless stand-up game all through the three rounds. However Imkong’s failure to crack a knockout blow and dispatch Pujari to a dwelling of no-comebacks designated the outcome of the Featherweight championship to be settled at the judges corner. Soon as the presenter read out the winner of the fight by means of a unanimous decision, the crescendo of noise exuded from the arena passed from deafening to boisterous jubilation, whichever comes first. And there, Imkong Jamir stood with his hands raised, the belt around his waist and the title of the YFC Featherweight Champion.
Satya Behuria churned out a unanimous decision win over Aditya Saha in the flyweight elimination fight setting up the title fight with Navdeep Aggrawal who earlier beat Sashi Kant by way of a majority decision after two rounds inside the hexagon.
For the YFC flyweight championship bout neither contenders Navdeep Aggrawal nor Satya Behuria manage to shut shop inside the regulated three three minute round fight. For the three Judges on the bench, Navdeep Aggrawal did enough to edge out Satya Behuria and claim the title of the flyweight division.
In the under 52 kg weight division, Sunny Khatri walked away with a majority decision win over Kishan Gupta in a fight that ended after two rounds at the judges table. Whilst the only win via submission in the YFC title tournament across all weight divisions came on the last fight of day one as Aleto Nagi forced a tap out from Vijay Gupta with a polished triangle clutch inside 1:13 seconds of the second round.
Sunny Khatri drained out the gas reserves of a brisk Aleto Nagi in a fierce grappling contest. Sunny Khatri came out on top in the battle of cardios in a captivating three round championship bout to stake his claim at the YFC strawweight title belt with a unanimous decision win. A fight where Khatri should not have been allowed to compete in the first place after his weight was found to be above the permitted limit for the category. Sunny Khatri however was not awarded the title belt.
The main event of the YFC season one finale fight card had Professional MMA artist Abishek Barua from Assam pitted against American national Nick Kistein in the flyweight division. Barely a minute into the first round Nick Kistein bundles Abishek Barua to the mat in a blitz, makes a pair of slick transitions on the ground and sinks in a deep rear naked choke. Coup de grâce for the sleeping Barua. A stock demonstration of elementary Jiu Jitsu, that would be worthy of the man, Royce Gracie himself.
Two days of perpetual combat inside the six-sided cage streamlined a robust introduction of this exciting new breed of sport in Nagaland. Cage fighting is not just addictive, it’s compelling. There’s something pure and primal about this sport. For simple Jacks and plain Janes it could just be about two guys beating the daylights out of each other but for bloodsport aficionados, MMA is an exciting complex and intriguing sport that requires huge amounts of skill, technique, fitness, courage and discipline. Mix martial arts is a modern day product, which hovers between basic instincts and amusement of the masses. Wise Guy Entertainment (event organizers) successfully perpetrated every detail to the T and leveled the YFC amateur MMA tournament on par alongside any professional MMA event in India. YFC Kohima edition was roped in by Wise Guy Entertainment in alliance with the Department of youth resources and sports, Government of Nagaland and Yodha Fighting Championship. The effects of the YFC hype-out is startlingly visible now, for fight fans in Nagaland this isn’t a revolution by itself but the face of one.
Photo Credits:- Sanen Pongener