Sport of Mix Martial Arts [MMA] is popular all over the world and is growing day by day in Pakistan. Fight Fortress Islamabad is a professional combat sports gym based in Islamabad, Pakistan with a mission of "Empowerment through Self-Actualization". The gym is being run by Coach Ehtisham Kareem Shaheen and Coach Ali Sultan both hailing from Gilgit, Pakistan and are trained in multiple martial arts disciplines. Coach Ehtisham's younger brother Uloomi Kareem Shaheen is also a professional fighter who trains at Fight Fortress and has fought internationally multiple times and is also the UGBMMA [Underground Battle MMA] Bantam Weight Champion. Uloomi beat India's undefeated Yadwinder Singh at World Series of Fighting Global Championship (WSOF-GC) bout held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Manila, Philippines back in July. The gym has many professional fighters who have competed at international level and have won numerous championships. The Coaches and students of Fight Fortress are hard working. Despite getting no support from the government these guys continue to train hard and make their country proud on a global scale. Team Fight Fortress' latest achievement is debut of their pro fighter Ahmed 'Wolverine' Mujtaba at One Fighting Championship's event 'Defending Honor' held at Singapore Indoor Stadium on 11 November, 2016 against Singapore's own Benedict Ang. Ahmed who is also the current UGBMMA Featherweight champion went to war against the Singaporean fighter winning the match by unanimous decision and bringing his professional fight record to 8 wins and zero losses, One Fighting Championship is currently Asia's biggest fight promotion so a proud moment for Pakistan and Team Fight Fortress indeed. Apart from pro fighters Fight fortress has many young prospects dreaming to follow footprints of their fellow fighters like Uloomi Kareem and Ahmed Mujtaba and experiencing the dedication of these guys and their coaches, leaving no doubt in their path to sucess.
We had a one-on-one chat with Coach Ehtisham regarding the sport of Mix Martial Arts.
Q: When did you decide to get into MMA?
A: since childhood, we've been training as long as I could remember so basically we've been training all our lives.
Q: When was Fight Fortress established?
A: Fight Fortress was established in 2007 here in Islamabad and is still going strong.
Q: How is MMA different from traditional martial arts?
A: MMA is basically a mix of all traditional martial arts, we use the techniques from the traditional martial arts and use them as we see fit for a fighter i.e if a fighter is big in size he'll find it easier to grapple opponents, if he's taller he'll have so he'll have a reach advantage over his opponent in boxing so we improve the skills using the techniques from different martial arts styles so that our fighter will have the edge over his opponent. We us boxing, kung fu, muay thai, jiu jitsu etc, we use all these traditional martial arts together and by doing so we respect all martial arts because when you train in all of these you start to respect each art so a mix martial artist respects all the traditional martial arts he\she trains in.
Q: When did it all began in Pakistan? People wanting to train in MMA?
A: Nothing can be said about the start of the sport in Pakistan. It was started due to efforts by different people at different times. One person I would like to point out is Jalil Ahmed owner of Pakido gym in Gujjar Khan. He was teaching MMA classes long before anyone. Then Fight Fortress was established and we started to promote MMA in Islamabad\ Rawalpindi and Bashir Ahmed started promoting MMA in Lahore. Bashir did bring all the gyms together under the PAKMMA's umbrella. So basically it was a combined effort of many people involved in promotion of this sport that MMA has now gained roots in Pakistan.
Q: We all know Government does not support MMA or its fighters who are fighting at international level, why do think it's so?
A: Because it's Pakistan, people over here have a laid back attitude towards everything. This is an industry which is being completely ignored, it is way for people to earn their livelihoods. MMA is a sport which is good for health and it’s a sport where a person can earn big while keeping their health. Government will support this sport once they start to see how much money is in it. Someday a fighter from Pakistan will go to the UFC which is the pinnacle of this sport and earn big then upon seeing the fighter's big payday the government will support MMA. Besides MMA there are plenty of people here who have a lot of achievements in traditional martial arts and have been working hard for promotion of their respective arts since even before starting of MMA gyms here so the government should first focus their attention towards them then come to us.
Q: How is MMA beneficial for mental health of a person?
A: It relieves frustration, anger, bitter feelings of a person. It can't be explained in words properly the best way to know about it is to experience it, drop in for a free trial class or try any tutorial martial arts videos and see it for yourself. It's like taking a plunge into water, it freshens up a person. At the end of the day you're a better person because you take out all the frustrations and anger during your training.
Q: General impression of this sport is that it turns people aggressive, does it?
A: No, not at all because generally people see us fighting each other or hitting the bags and say 'they just train to hurt people', no! Absolutely not, actually we are more relaxed and more harmless than an average person, why? Because we take out our anger and frustrations in the gym while training. An average guy who doesn't train and carries his frustration around all the time is more dangerous and will show aggressive behavior, not the person who trains every day. When we punch a bag, that's us taking out all our bitter feelings, anger on a piece of training equipment, if it's with some other fighter or a sparring partner then it's with a person who is trained to take those hits. So training in this sport makes a person more relaxed as compared to an average person who doesn't train and has to carry the burden of his frustrations, anger with him.
Q: People often accuse fighters of using steroids, supplements and risking their health, is it true?
A: First of all, there is a difference between steroids and supplements people usually consider both the same due to lack of information. Steroids and performance enhancing drugs are harmful for health while supplements are just a little extra protein, a little extra vitamin for the body which are consumed with your everyday diet and is not harmful in any way. Eating right is the best way and it's easy especially in an agricultural country like Pakistan where you can get a variety of organic foods. What people lack here is knowledge on how to cook in order to get proteins and vitamins out of these organic foods. Cook your food with less oil and don’t overcook to keep a healthy diet!
Q: You have many female students at your gym, why do girls want to train in MMA?
A: Why shouldn’t they? They have every right to train as much as the guys and besides who doesn't want to get stronger? In my experience they are more hardworking than the guy and they listen more to their teachers. Women need to learn how to defend themselves particularly in a country like Pakistan where if anything happens the woman is always blamed regardless of their involvement in the incident so why shouldn’t women know how to strike back instead.
Q: How do you see MMA as a career for young fighters?
A: Career opportunities are better for upcoming fighters because due to the efforts of the current fighters we now have access to international fights so the basically the career opportunities are brighter for the fighters than in past. It'll get better as people start supporting the sport. Because MMA is gaining popularity and more people are aware of this sport than in the past. People of Pakistan need to back their fighters because they are now fighting at international level. Support of fans counts, for a fighter being in the cage with people cheering for you is a big boost during a fight.