India’s Bharat Khandare will make his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut against China’s Pingyuan Liu in the bantamweight division (57 to 61 kg) at the UFC Fight Night in Shanghai on November 25
When it comes to mixed martial arts (MMA), India is a huge pool of untapped talent. For a country fascinated by traditional wrestling, the number of Indian fighters on the global MMA stage is negligible. However, that will change very soon as Mumbai-based Bharat Khandare has become the first Indian to sign for MMA promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The 28-year-old from Nashik, Maharashtra, will make his debut against China’s Pingyuan Liu in the bantamweight division (57 to 61 kg) at the UFC Fight Night in Shanghai on November 25.
“It feels great. Becoming the first Indian fighter on the roster will open doors for the youth and it will certainly increase viewership of the sport in India. I feel motivated,” Khandare told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
Khandare, who hails from a wrestling background, started kickboxing training around five years ago in Mumbai and it did not take him long to make his mark in the domestic MMA circuit. In 2012, he joined the Super Fight League (SFL) and with a first-round submission win over Narender Grewal, he became the SFL Featherweight (61 to 66 kg) champion. The 28-year-old took part in two more fights and enjoys an unbeaten 5-0 record in the Super Fight League.
“I started as a wrestler. After some ugly politics in the sport, I didn’t see my career evolve and switched to MMA. It’s been a great decision so far. I’m currently in the best phase of my life, with a UFC contract under my belt,” he said.
Khandare, however, was not happy with competing at domestic level. In 2016, he started training in the famous Jackson Wink MMA academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The academy is known for producing world champions. It was a great experience for him to train with stalwarts like Holly Holm and Jon Jones.
“The camp at Jackson Wink MMA was excellent. The environment taught me a lot. Greats like Jon Jones and Holly Holm are so humble and they shared their experience with everybody. It was truly magical,” he said.
The Indian MMA scene has grown quite a lot over the last few years. With promotions like the SFL and Brave 5, young fighters have found decent platforms to showcase their talent.
“MMA is a niche sport when it comes to India. It has the scope to grow exponentially. A lot of people have joined the sport in the last couple of years and with the promotion looking to sign Indian fighters, youngsters should get serious about making this a career.”