Part five of our dive into Indian MMA will look at the governing bodies overlooking the sport in the country, the AIMMAA and AIMMAF.
As mentioned in the last part, we will be now be taking a look at what was happening behind the curtains in Indian MMA. Please keep in mind that:
1. We are covering a portion of Indian MMA which is not documented. This is the more subjective part of the MMA history, where almost everyone wants to portray themselves as victims.
2. This altogether is a different section of Indian MMA history. This stream has been largely led by promoters and managers and their decisions have directly or indirectly affected the lives of fighters.
3. We will be revisiting many things again, but this time from a different perspective.
MMA is not a governmentally recognized sport in India. Each body in this sport is recognized from different governmental units. Each organization which acts as authorizing body of MMA in India acts independently.
All India Mixed Martial Arts Association
Popularly known as AIMMAA, the organization was created way back in 2004 and is by far the oldest Mixed Martial Arts body in the Indian MMA community. It was created by Daniel Isaac originally as a kickboxing body, known as All India Kickboxing Council. The council soon changed its name to AIMMAA to act as a supervising body over MMA in India. The founding members of the organization were Alan Fenandes, Ryan Thorpe, Jitendra Jain and Isaac.
Opening up about the main objective of the body, Daniel Isaac, MMA pioneer and founding member of AIMMAA, says, “All India Mixed Martial Arts Association was founded to position itself as the supervising NGO sports body for Mixed Martial Arts.”
Now as MMA was not a legalized sport, no one was supposed to actually register themselves at AIMMAA to get their events sanctioned. Still AIMMAA was the sanctioning body of Clash of Champions (India’s first pro-MMA promotion) and Gym Wars. The oldest-MMA sanctioning body of India, AIMMAA started taking over as the authority over Indian MMA somewhere between the late 2000s and early 2010s. The organization started getting itself registered with various state governments in order to increase its reach.
Why did AIMMAA do this?
As AIMMAA gained recognition from each state government, they could call themselves the recognized body for the state, and hence, masquerade themselves as the authoritative body of MMA in India. This gave them enough clout to get any promotion to sign themselves up as a part of AIMMAA. The move was devised carefully, but they never finished the process due to SFL’s association with Daniel Isaac.
SFL and AIMMAA:
In 2012, when SFL joined hands with Daniel Isaac, it automatically made AIMMAA their authorizing body. The control over SFL meant that they had control over MMA in India, as a majority of MMA gyms and fighters had signed exclusive contracts with SFL, which indirectly brought them under AIMMAA. This move made AIMMAA the undisputed MMA authority across India, which also brought in a lot of power and control to the hands of Daniel Isaac, who was the commissioner of AIMMAA.
AIMMAA was also the body that was providing referees and judges for SFL. They took care of in-ring equipment, officials and better management while also doing the paperwork required to make sure the fights were registered on websites to keep the official record of pro fighters.
Opening up about the relationship between AIMMAA and SFL, Daniel Isaac says, “AIMMAA has worked closely with SFL since its early days. We are happy to supervise and organize MMA shows for SFL because they comply with all health and safety protocol for athletes at the highest levels.”
Mayur Bansode and Karate Officials
One of the most important moves which happened in the early years of AIMMA was their association with karate teacher Mayur Bansode. Bansode was a karate black belt and had been a part of Indian karate community for a long time. He was also an accomplished kickboxer.
AIMMAA in its early days of association with SFL was having trouble in finding proper officials to judge matches. Hence, they usually had to employ the services of high-ranking AIMMAA officials, who had to travel from various places to conduct SFL events. As the number of events increased, it became difficult for them to continue their own jobs and also handle AIMMAA duties. That is when Bansode came on the scene and got all the karate officials to take part in an MMA referee program and become officials for SFL events. He was the one who got them under AIMMAA and helped in providing the base of officials to AIMMAA.
SFL Fighter Pay Issue
As per their website, AIMMAA takes care of fighter regulation, listens to their complaints and acts as the authorizing body of MMA in India. It is very clearly mentioned on their website that : “In India the AIMMAA ensures that every promoter/association follows the strict guidelines laid down by the national board for safe practices, officials’ expertise and integrity and high standards of athlete training. AIMMAA supervises that every event in India covers the mandatory policies of Heath Safety and Sport governance. Under the guidance of state chief delegates and an expert panel of national committee members the AIMMAA continues to unify mixed martial arts and mma fighters under this All-India banner with an effort to provide world class training and know-how to the Indian MMA community. All events conducted by AIMMAA in India are under direct permission from the Ministry of Sports, Govt of India. In India the AIMMAA follows the policy ‘To protect the fighters and promote the sport.'”
By normal definition, “promoter follows the strict guidelines laid down by the national board for safe practices, officials’ expertise and integrity” would mean that AIMMAA will take some action when a fighter accuses a promotion of not paying their promised fight purse. However, AIMMAA did not play any active role in resolving any complaints of the fighters.
One of the most notorious cases of a fighter not being paid the money they were due was seen when former kickboxing world champion, Charmaine Tweet, who had shared the cage with the likes of Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg, was not given her promised fight money. She later released a statement which read:
“ ** WARNING TO ALL FIGHTERS**
So after not being paid by the SFL after 1 month, and having to have Charmaine Tweet’s Management company release a statement regarding this matter… this is the response we got this morning for the Owner of the SFL …After sending this email several days ago:
Good Morning Raj:
I hope you remember me, I am Charmaine Tweet’s husband/manager. I am writing this message with the upmost respect. We feel we have no other avenues to pursue. Charmaine fought on Nov 23, SFL 10. We had signed a contract to be paid within 10 business days from the night of the fight. It has now been over double that time frame and we still have not been paid or reimbursed any monies. I have patiently contacted Dan several times over the last couple of weeks until I received an email saying he couldn’t help us any longer and would be away for the next month. He then instructed us to contact Shakir about any and all payments. I did contact Shakir four days ago and he informed us the money has been sent and he would send us some tracking information. That was four days ago and still no email or information from Shakir. Charmaine is a top-ranked Pro fighter and depends on her win purses to continue in this fight game. She has worked very hard for 12 years to get to be where she is today and is very well respected worldwide within the MMA community. We are struggling to understand why she has not been paid by the SFL. We feel Charmaine has been a positive advocate for SFL and looks forward to continue to be so. We truly hate to bother you with this matter but feel that each person we have contacted over the past 2.5 weeks has had little to no interest in helping us or understanding how important this money is to a fighter. Thank you very much for taking the time to look at this matter and we appreciate your time in this matter. Please feel free to email me or call any time.”
“You have u guys lost it? I have spoken to accounts u have been paid and proof sent p.s you are released.
THIS IS THE ONLY REPLY WE RECEIVED, TELLING US THAT CHAR HAS BEEN RELEASED….. STILL NO PAYMENT OF ANY KIND !!!!!!! OR ANY PROOF OR TRACKING NUMBER OR COPY OF CONTRACTS ….NOTHING. THIS CLEARLY SHOWS HOW THEY DEAL WITH WOMEN FIGHTERS IF YOU DARE TO QUESTION THEM ON ANY LEVEL.”
When asked about why was AIMMAA not involved in any transactions, Daniel Isaac says, “AIMMAA’s responsibility is to ensure protocols of health and safety for athletes and to ensure that the sport is promoted within the framework of a legitimately drafted ruleset in accordance with International MMA rules. Athlete’s payments and payment schedules are defined within the framework of mutually agreed upon contracts. AIMMAA is not part of the relationship between SFL and its signed athletes, AIMMAA just ensures that fighters are cleared through all screenings and licenses and that information is passed on to the SFL.”
Since AIMMAA’s takeover as the authoritative body of Indian MMA, they have been subject to a lot criticism. They have not only been called out by Indian but also by foreign fighters multiple times. A particular charge which regularly comes up is that AIMMAA is a very corrupt organization.
In an intense write up on the “plight of fighters”, published on their official website, AIMMAF (All India Mixed Martial Arts Federation) claims that AIMMA takes up to 70-percent of fighters purse. They say, “The only association that organized events in India banned any athlete who questioned any of the decisions or demanded due payment or post-fight medical services. The fighters were not provided training, medical access, insurance or conveyance. Moreover, up to 70-percent of the prize money earned by the fighters was taxed by the association (leaving 30-percent to fighters). For most of the professional bouts, fighters were paid mere Rs. 15000-20000 while the actual purse money for each fighter was setup to be more than 1 lac each. Since the fighter purse money is not announced the fighters never questioned the payment as they had no other MMA event to participate in India. There were numerous occasions where the promoter had paid money to Daniel Issac for fighter prize money but then they were never handed over to fighters. Most importantly, the contracts with the fighters were in the hands of the commissioner of the All India Mixed Martial Arts Association and athletes did not have access to even possess a copy of the contract they were signed on to. When asked for a contract copy, AIMMAA commissioner would ask the fighter to get released without sharing the copy of the contract. A large number of fighters had to leave the organization midway, as they weren’t getting paid. This eventually became the sole reason for many fighters to come together to establish a federation on behalf of the fighters for fighters which in the end got the recognition of The Prince of Bahrain, His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad (KHK MMA).”
When asked what were his thoughts, Daniel Isaac says, “There are no such accusations against AIMMAA. What you are referring to is propaganda created by people who left AIMMAA because they wanted to create their own MMA organization: not through their own merit or hard work but by slandering the leader of the sport in India and by attempting to steal members and athletes from our organization through the spreading of baseless lies.”
No fighter so far has come out and openly stated that AIMMMA charged them a percentage of their fight purse, however many have stated that AIMMAA has failed to provide proper safety at events.
Bansode’s Walkout and Mass Exit from AIMMAA
Sometime in 2014-15, Mayur Bansode resigned from AIMMAA. He said “I had been a part of AIMMAA for a long time and had given in a lot of my resources to help the organization grow. When I started asking questions about where the money, which was being invested, was going I got vague answers. After repeated requests when I couldn’t get answers, I left the organization,” Bansode said. Adding on, Bansode said that the main reason wasn’t money. “My main reason to resign is that association started making business first. They ask all officials to receive black belt in MMA and fees was 7000 rs (and no one support this idea). And second, they organize level-one MMA certification course in that they gave MMA coach certificate in one day to martial arts and fitness instructors and was 1200/- rs.” With Bansode leaving the organization, many others soon made their exit.
AIMMAA created a very strong impact on the Indian MMA landscape. It attracted many people to the world of MMA and managed to start a revolution in the Indian Martial Arts community. AIMMAA members were the first people to actually talk about recognition of the sport from the government and were responsible for educating people about the sport of MMA.
They worked hard to create an environment that was friendly towards the concept of MMA and their on-ground connections once were almost second to none. AIMMAA also managed to become the first body to connect with one of the most important MMA bodies, IMMAF.
IMMAF (International Mixed Martial Arts Federation) joined hands with AIMMAA and welcomed it as a part of their organization. This was a historic move by the organization which changed the landscape of amateur prospects in India. Opening up about this in an interview, Daniel Isaac said, “AIMMAA has officially proposed my name for a role on the IMMAF world board. This is a great honor for me. I believe that my experience in MMA in India over the last decade, coupled with good networking and working relations between AIMMAA and other Asian/Middle Eastern countries will help me bring much positivity and development for IMMAF and the sport of MMA in the region. I believe that Asia and the Middle East have a lot of untapped potential where talent and expertise in MMA is concerned; and I believe we can ignite a revolution for the sport of MMA in this region.”
AIMMAF: All India Mixed Martial Arts Federation
AIMMAF was created in early 2016 by Aditya PS, Mayur Bansode, and Abdul Muneer. When asked about the main goal when creating the organization, Aditya simply replied, “AIMMAF was created for the fighters, by fighters.”
The organization took a very different approach to the sport than AIMMAA. Instead of getting recognition from different states, the AIMMAF simply got themselves registered under the central government. Despite being associated with influential names in the Indian MMA community, its early years weren’t really relevant to the Indian MMA market. The organization did not have any promotions signed up, nor did they have funds or recognition from any international body to move forward. For this development, the AIMMAF needed a strong backing, which they got from Brave.
AIMMAF and Brave
Brave Combat Federation was founded by Sheikh Khaled Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the fifth son of Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa. The promotion was created with the aim of making Mixed Martial Arts a global sport. The promotion was backed by the royal family of Bahrain and was therefore capable of investing money in the MMA circuit.
As explained in the last part, Brave Combat Federation wanted to break into the Indian market. So in 2016, they had their team connect with AIMMAF. The top officials were invited to Bahrain, where they met His Highness Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Opening up about their meeting, President of AIMMAF, Aditya PS says, “His Highness has been very grateful towards AIMMAF and the Indian MMA community. He gave us the initial support to grow the federation and even got Brave associated with us.” This association is what led to the historic event of Brave 5.
Brave 5: The Big Debacle
The main event between Tahar Hadbi and Carl Booth at Brave 5 was supposed to go five rounds. However, the fight was put an end to after three. The result returned was a unanimous decision win for Booth.
However, Booth himself said in the post-fight interview that he had signed up for a five-round fight. Hadbi seemed to look as if he was about to take the lead in the fight as Booth was gassed after round two. This particularly egregious case of bad timekeeping was heavily criticized. The decision was later overturned to a no-contest.
The duty of time-keeping is the job of the sanctioning body. Blunders like these cost a lot to fighters as they give in a lot of effort in a single fight. This mistake on AIMMAF’s end gave the entire Indian MMA community a bad look. In their official statement, AIMMAF said, “After a deep and detailed investigation, AIMMAF has identified the timekeeping mistake that caused the premature end of Brave 5 main event, Tahar Hadbi vs. Carl Booth. Due to the circumstantial and rare nature of the issue found, AIMMAF considered it appropriate to overturn the original result, a unanimous decision win for Booth, into a no-contest. Brave Combat Federation and the fighters involved in the bout have already been informed about the decision”
Responding to this Brave CF commented, “Brave Combat Federation respects AIMMAF’s decision and acknowledges the Commission’s fair treatment of the subject, as well as its quick response to the athletes, the promotion, and the fans.”
Responding to the overall situation Aditya PS, President of AIMMAF, said “Yes, we do accept the goof-up was on our end but it must be noted that none of the officials were from AIMMAF. We had specially brought in officials from the IMMAF and had veteran referee Marc Goddard for the event. The judges too were sent by the IMMAF. We did sanction the fights but we did not allow our officials to conduct the event as we really weren’t experienced. We accept our mistake but we are working to make sure such mistakes don’t happen again.”
Impact of AIMMAF
AIMMAF is not an old body. So it as an organization hasn’t achieved much. However, they have created one genuine major change in the Indian MMA scene, that is, they have managed to establish a competitor to AIMMAA.
The good thing about this competition is that there is no longer one singular powerhouse in the world of Indian MMA. There is a popular saying that goes “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” With competition, the two powerhouses will keep each other in check; making sure that no one manages to dominate fighters or gets away with bullying, unlike in the early days. This makes the entire Indian MMA scene better for fighters.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We all, at some point in our lives, have heard about this third law of motion of Mr. Newton. So, while this split of power created a more friendly environment for some fighters, it made a few others more competitive and divided the fighters. This division of fighters was exploited by many local promoters.
The merger of WMMAF and IMMAF
The two world bodies are merging together to get Mixed Martial Arts legitimate recognition as a sport. This is expected to create a strong movement in the Indian MMA community as both AIMMAF and AIMMAA are in some way or the other associated with the two organizations. Daniel Isaac, however, refuted all those claims and said, “It does not affect AIMMAA. We are the oldest and largest operating MMA organization in India. We are the sole representatives for IMMAF in India since 2014. We are happy to accommodate martial artists and athletes from all regions of India to join AIMMAA.”
Overall, these two organizations have had their own impact on the world of MMA and have played an important role in shaping up the MMA community. What happens in the future is something which I doubt anyone can predict.
In the next and final part, we talk about the revival of SFL and the future of the Indian MMA community.