Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a hybrid combat sport incorporating techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, jujitsu, Muay Thai, and other disciplines. It has emerged as one of the world’s fastest-growing spectator sports in the early 21st century. In 2001, new UFC management created rules by adding weight classes, rounds, and time limits and also extending the list of fouls in the ring to make it less dangerous. The fighters are required to train extensively and remain in peak condition.
It is a sport that has made its way into the interest of many households in Nagaland. So was the case of LimasunepImchen, an amateur MMA fighter from Nagaland. The 20-year-old has been interested in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) ever since he started watching it with his father which he remembers to be when he was in grade 9. Since then he knew he had what it takes to be an MMA fighter. But at that age, he didn’t dare to speak up to his parents about it nor did he know of any gym where he could pursue the sport so he did not even consider it as an option.
“I had zero knowledge about any martial arts. It was a whole new journey for me” says Limasunep with a hint of nostalgia on his face. “…In the beginning one or two months, with zero knowledge about any martial arts, it was difficult. I was stiff and couldn’t catch up with the training. I didn’t give up and put more effort into it.My friends and seniors along with my coach helped me out a lot; they taught me new techniques and I kept learning it consistently. Once I was able to achieve it, I knew I could do it and that’s when it hit me that MMA is what I want.”
“This was all in January 2019. I had to join college again from the start in the month of May but I joined through correspondence studies. I only had to appear for my exams. This was difficult for me so after the first-semester exam, I started going to class again.”
Being a professional athlete takes a high degree of commitment and dedication. What one would consider being a typical life is sacrificed during the whole process of achieving one’s goal. It was the same for Limasunep. “My biggest challenge was managing time with college and my MMA training. I would wake up early enough to leave home by 5:30 AM so as to reach the gym at 6:00 AM.” he said proudly “I would workout till 7:00 AM and then would I make my tiffin for lunch at the gym itself. I would then shower, get into my uniform which I keep at the gym and move out for college by 8:00 AM to make it to my 9:00 AM class. Classes would end by 2:15 PM and I would head out straight to the gym and start my training from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM. By the time I move out for home, which is around 8:00 PM, there are no autos available so my friends and I walk on foot from Nagarjan to Erailibill and reach home by 9:00 PM. I get free time by 10:00 PM or even 11:00 PM once I’m done with dinner and shower. This leaves me no time to work on my assignments and homework and very tired.”
“Coming from a Naga family, it was very difficult to get them to support my decision. They wouldn’t even provide me with pocket money for my auto fare (travels) so I would walk to the academy. For about two months they didn’t even pay me for my fees, I had to use my savings. They were angry with my decision but later when they got to see the effort I was putting in and my dedication they were supportive; be it raining or not and even in the hot weather I would religiously attend my training. The roads were in terrible condition and yet I wouldn’t miss a day of training. My parents started paying for my classes and even paid for my travels. They gave me money so that I could buy new clothes for the gym and not just that, they would even help me with my diet. After my first fight, I can tell that they are proud of me. They would speak about my fight with my relatives; especially my father. Now they are my biggest support.” Said Limasunep with a big smile “I feel so good now; I feel so blessed. I will always thank God for the opportunity, for a good life, and for always keeping my family well. My only prayer is that God keeps my parents well so that they are always there for me in the future.” He understands their concern and yet with his immense passion for the sport he endeavors to work harder day in and day out.
Limasunep made his fighting debut at the Kohima X1 International on December 6, 2019, at the Hornbill Festival. He won his first-ever fight and it also turned out to be his last so far with the current COvid-19 pandemic. “I was prepared and confident for my first fight. I was a little nervous. As soon as my workout song started to play, nothing came to my mind other than that I have to fight. The only thing I heard was my coach’s voice, my opponent’s breathing, and mine as well. I could only see my opponent and nothing else. The whole match was 3 rounds of 3 minutes each but inside the octagon, the 3 minutes felt like 10 minutes and my 1-minute break felt like 10 seconds. Right when the bell rang and the game was over, I knew I won all 3 rounds. I dominated it and I could only lift my hands and enjoy my victory. My opponent was much more experienced in MMA than me, he was undefeated. Young and hungry like me but I believe I was hungrier. That hunger made me win. It was fun fighting with him.” He considers this win to be his biggest professional achievement. As for his biggest personal achievement, he considers it to be what his Coach KhriemilieMetha commented upon his fight. “After my first fight, my coach commented that my debut was the best debut, in terms of technique, among all the team members and that is what I take as my biggest personal achievement.”
“…Comparing his first fight to everyone else’s first fights, his performance showcased a much higher understanding of technique. We are collectively learning from all our individual mistakes and getting better at a much faster pace than we use to. This fight is also a testament to the general increase in skill level of the region. It’s just not us, everyone is getting better. I’m just glad the team found another likeminded silent killer in @Limasunepimchen who just loves a good throw down. We will always show up to fight.” [ @Khriemilie ]
As any other athlete fueled with a passion for their game, Limansunep is no stranger to it. He strives to one day stand strong and fight on international ground. “We Nagas mostly compete within our own country and view those fighters from the international ground to be more skilled, stronger, and possess more advanced training. But I think otherwise. My biggest motivation is to break that barrier and show that we (Nagas) are no less. A coach of mine Imkong Jamir even went ahead and fought with international players at The Ultimate Beatdown 28: Borneo in Malaysia and won showing that we are also capable of such wins. This is my biggest motivation to move forward and work harder to compete and win. My goal is to keep fighting and fighting and fighting and representing my people and my country and making them proud by winning titles and championships in one or the other organizations.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the world hard and left many with no firm plans about the future. Limasunep whose career was just starting on the full force has come to a halt and yet he is hopeful about what all he is yet to achieve. “It has affected everyone and for me as an MMA athlete, it has affected my career. I was just at the beginning of my career. I can’t fight nor can I train with my friends. It has put my career on hold as a fighter. But the fire is still in me. I pray that this COVID-19 ends soon and once that is clear, I’m going to fight. I will be back.”