Rise of Pakistan’s Wolverine

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Ahmed was a good athlete, he was one of those guys who can do good in any sport they get into some are good at hockey, some are good at cricket etc but Ahmed was an overall athlete

Mixed Martial Arts [MMA] fighter Ahmed ‘Wolverine’ Mujtaba has recently been making waves across Pakistan after winning Asia’s biggest fight promotion, titled “One Fighting Championship”, held on 11 November 2016 in Singapore. The Pakistani pro-fighter fought against Singapore’s Benedict Ang and after three rounds of an intense battle, the Wolverine stood high, victorious, putting an end to the Singaporean fighter’s undefeated streak. Ahmed who currently has a professional fight record of 8 wins and zero losses is not to stop anytime soon, despite having no support from Pakistani government Ahmed continues to make his country proud on a global scale.

Today it seems like Ahmed Mujtaba can take down a mountain with his bare hands but was it like this since the beginning?, being a fellow MMA trainee and belonging to the same training institute, the curiosity led me to probe the future of MMA.

A little overview of our Gym:

Fight Fortress is a professional combat sports gym based in Islamabad, where they harness your abilities and turn you from “Ahmed Mujtaba” to “Wolverine”. Fight Fortress was founded and is currently being run by Coach Ali Sultan and Coach Ehtisham Kareem Shaheen, both of whom are trained in multiple disciplines of martial arts and have trained numerous professional fighters including Ahmed who have represented Pakistan on the international level. Taking a look around the gym and watching their workout routines leaves no doubt regarding the determination, dedication of the fighters and their coaches to promote the sport of MMA in Pakistan.

I had a chat with one of Wolverine’s mentors, Coach Ali Sultan regarding the process  and the journey of Ahmed Mujtaba to the platform of One Fighting Championship.

How long have you been training in MMA?

I started doing martial arts when I was seven years old and I was a Taekwondo black belt when I was thirteen years old. After that, I started training in MMA with Coach Ehtisham which was almost 9 years ago.

When was the gym established and since when have you been coaching students?

We laid the foundation of Fight Fortress at Islamabad sports complex and started coaching students 8 years back. Initially, the gym was at the sports complex, then we moved to the blue area, after that g-10 and now we’re here at the g-11 sector of Islamabad.

Since when did you start coaching the wolverine?

Ahmed started training six and a half years back and has been with us ever since he was almost 17 years old when he joined Fight Fortress. He was a friend of Faizan Khan another pro-MMA fighter of Fight Fortress.

What’s the difference between Ahmed, when he first arrived at the gym and the fighter he is now?

Initially, Ahmed was a good athlete, he was one of those guys who can do good in any sport they get into some are good at hockey, some are good at cricket etc but Ahmed was an overall athlete and I think he would have excelled in any sport he had chosen. His friends used to say that he was good at every sport he played so he was very athletic from the start and he chose MMA because he got inspired from watching action movies after that he started training with us. There are some people who know the techniques but don’t have the confidence then there are some people who don’t know techniques and are full of confidence. Ahmed had been with us for about only 10 to 12 days and he asked me to teach him the jumping front kick, I told him it was difficult to move but he insisted so I taught him and practised it a couple of times. After ten days we had an event coming up and Ahmed insisted that he wanted to compete we advised him not do it because he was still new to the sport but he entered and his opponent was a Wushu black-belt. It only took 4 seconds Ahmed used the technique which we practised with him only 3, 4 times and knocked the other guy out there is a video of it on our Facebook page do check it out. He is the most hardworking student there are 2 types of people who are successful 1. Talented, 2. hardworking but in MMA or any other combat sport both traits are required because there are a lot of factors you have to take into account regarding a fighter’s physical condition from the stamina of the fighter to how many hits he can take before falling down so you can’t achieve that physical condition on talent only hard work is also important and Ahmed has been hard working from the start.

coaches

Usually, guys in their teenage are not focused and that’s where we [the coaches] came in, we used to scold Ahmed and the others who were with him at that time whenever these guys missed a training session and during his training, Ahmed also competed in fights and won. After a while, he moved to Quetta and continued his training there in gyms where there isn’t even proper ventilation so the point is that he never skipped training and as time passed he improved himself and now he’s the top prospect of Pakistan. Everybody has seen his fight and the confidence with which he went inside the cage can be clearly seen. Some fighters can’t handle fighting in front of a crowd of 50,000 people because they lack confidence. An example of this is a fighter from Lahore Waqar Umar who is also a good fighter but had never received the exposure like that of One fighting Championship and he lost his matches over there due to lack of confidence but Ahmed went inside that same cage on the same platform and in front of the same crowd and he overshadowed his opponent with his confidence and won his debut match.

What was the difference between his normal training routine and his routine for the One Fighting Championship match?

The truth is that we took it easy because we had a couple of issues first of all being the small amount of space in the gym, in order to train someone for a professional fight we need more space but we had to manage the gym as well so we made do with what we had. Also we had to make adjustments to our training plan, the first adjustment being we had to train him light, secondly we had watch that we didn’t over-train him because when you over-train a fighter his performance decreases instead of improving so after all the adjustments our training plan was reduced to only 25% but the good thing was that Ahmed trained regularly. All his classes of striking and grappling went on regularly and our senior students helped a lot in training him because everybody knew that this fight was a matter of honour for the gym. But InshAllah in the next fight we’ll have more space so we won’t run into these issues again.

We all know that the government does not support MMA community of Pakistan, what problems did you guys face in order to get Wolverine to the platform of One Fighting Championship without any government support?

We don’t believe in crying out for government’s help we all know there are a lot of sports in Pakistan which the government does not support apart from cricket, hockey was our national sport we used to have world champions here now look where hockey is at these days. Just like hockey Pakistan has many talented people in the field of combat sports but the government is only focused on cricket. But if we just decide to cry over the fact that the government does not help us then we can’t progress any further. Initially, it was very difficult for us because keeping up in this sport and maintaining a balanced diet for a fighter is expensive so initially, we had problems financially, we had left our jobs to promote this sport in Pakistan we didn’t have a strong financial background to support all the fighters. When we had to send these guys to fight outside the country for the first time we had to request everyone from our social circle to help in any way they can from our parents, friends to the parents of the fighters everybody helped and we were successful. And now after all those struggles we don’t expect anything from the government at this time.

What’s next for Ahmed?

Ahmed has a six-fight contract of two years with the One Fighting Championship and he’ll be having his second fight by the end of January or start of February and we’ve worked out training programs for him because as you know the more you progress in this sport the opponents get tougher and tougher. So we have to prepare him for everything.

How is the growth of MMA among the youth in Pakistan?

Basically MMA is still a new sport globally it is the fastest growing sport and in the foreign countries it’s progressing rapidly but here in 3rd world countries, the progress is a little slow but still with help of media people are now getting aware of the sport so the growth of MMA is definitely better than before. And as you know the majority of our youth is frustrated, a majority of them have not engaged in anything it is due to a number of factors from the country’s present economic situation to unemployment etc so MMA is positive in that sense because with MMA people learn to take their frustrations out in the gym. We’ve witnessed an increase in the number of people from all parts of the country who want to train in MMA because even if someone does not want to be a professional fighter they are still attracted to train in MMA due to its self-defence factor. So comparing the growth of MMA with the growth which was 8 years ago I can say that I have witnessed a 100% increase in the people interested in training in MMA. So the future seems very bright. The only problem is that our MMA community doesn’t seem to be on one page regarding promotion of MMA, just like the traditional martial arts federations of Pakistan got engaged in politics, leg pulling and never made any progress. I fear MMA community of Pakistan is also starting to go down the same path, I saw this with Ahmed’s recent win after that I heard that some people were saying that we are trying to steal the spotlight, however, it is not so! Ahmed’s win is a big step for All of Pakistan’s MMA community not for a particular group of people.

How do see MMA as a career for the upcoming fighters?

The truth is that there are many fighters even in the top promotions of MMA like UFC, Bellator, One Fighting Championship who earn their living from fighting, they score big paydays but even in those promotions the new fighters who have started fighting are the ones who have other jobs and businesses etc. They work and they fight at the same time, so as far as the scope is concerned this sport needs a lot of focus and dedication. I won’t suggest that a person burns bridges and goes on to become a professional fighter. Do give this sports time, manage work or your studies with that your training because it is best that way. There are a lot of fighters in MMA that are businessmen, they’re millionaires, even some people working in the banks of wall street are training in MMA because it’s not all about fighting, it’s all about how you market yourself. So don’t burn your bridges, keep all your options open, take time out for MMA but continue your jobs and studies with it.

Message for anyone who would like to train in MMA?

Nothing is impossible! People usually are scared that this is a dangerous sport but that’s not the case there are far more dangerous sports than MMA in the world. Take mountain climbing, for instance, climbing Mount Everest is far more dangerous than practising MMA but people have been successful in that so like I said nothing is impossible. But a person who wants to get into this sport should be committed and dedicated for the sake of his own betterment. Secondly punctuality, a person needs to take out proper time for training. Third managing your activities for example I train in MMA then I spend the night watching videos on Youtube. No! You have to give the body proper rest and manage your other activities with it. So these are a few things that should be kept in mind before starting to train. If a person is determined then there is nothing that can stop him, we even have people who are disabled but they train and they’ve won fights as well, so if someone with a disability can train in MMA so what’s to stop a healthy person from doing so? But it takes hard work, consistency is most important part of training in this sport.

You mentioned rifts in the MMA community, do you have any message for them?

WE and by WE I mean the entire MMA community of Pakistan, all the people under the umbrella of PAKMMA and all the people involved in the sport of MMA in Pakistan. Ahmed’s win at One fighting Championship is for the betterment of us all and for the betterment of MMA in Pakistan. We should not indulge in traditional politics. My message is that MMA is still new and it’s still gaining roots in Pakistan so if we engage in jealousy and leg pulling then at this level than MMA’s future will just be like that of Karate, Taekwondo, Wrestling, Boxing which everybody can see where those sports stand today in Pakistan. We have to let go of our egos and stand together to support every fighter who fights outside Pakistan for the betterment of MMA in the country.

Coach Sultan and his students continue to make their country proud on an international scale and with MMA gaining popularity day-by-day and Fighters like Ahmed Mujtaba leading the way more fighters will be coming out of Pakistan to represent their homeland and show the world that Pakistanis are a force to be reckoned with inside the cage.