Kumite 1 League CEO Somesh Kamra on Launching the League and Mike Tyson’s Involvement

Kumite 1 League
Credit: Kumite 1 League

Kumite 1 League is the latest start-up in Indian MMA, with a unique format, and the backing of heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson.

On September 29, Kumite 1 League will enter the bazaar of broken bones hoping to capitalize on the still-developing Indian MMA industry. The promotion, backed by Toyam Industries, and with Mike Tyson involved, will host its first event in the legendary NSCI Dome in Worli, Mumbai. Toyam originally was an asset sharing company, but since being brought over by Mohamedali Budhwani, the company has been focused on building an MMA league in India. After having the concept stay in the pipes for almost a year, the event finally started taking shape earlier in 2018.

CEO Somesh Kamra told Cageside Press that “before the beginning of the official league we decided to have, what I like to call, a showcase event. The event will be basically telling people this is what we can deliver. This event gives them an insight into what exactly is the concept of Kumite 1 League.”

” There could be a banger in the fields of North India who most probably hasn’t competed in MMA. There could be a hard-hitter in the hills of north-east who didn’t get a chance to compete in MMA. We want to keep this as open as possible so that everyone gets a chance to compete.

The event is set to be followed by an immediate talent hunt. “We will be building a Team India. As soon as the event ends, we plan on to host a talent hunt in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, and Bangalore. From these cities, we will select multiple fighters and will be grooming them. From these selected fighters we will get a team which will represent India in the Kumite 1 League,” said Somesh. The talent-hunt will be open to all. That means even if someone has no pro-MMA experience, he or she can take part.

“The criteria for being selected will be based on what you present that day. Just like the Indian Idol, you come in and present what you have and on that, we decide whether or not you have it.” While it does sound a bit vague on paper, the team at Kumite 1 League has their own reasons to keep the format so open. “See first, even in TUF when Sean Shelby and Dana White select fighters who should be a part of the show, they do not make them fight. They look at the way these fighters are moving, hitting pads etc. Secondly, there could be a banger in the fields of North India who most probably hasn’t competed in MMA. There could be a hard-hitter in the hills of north-east who didn’t get a chance to compete in MMA. We want to keep this as open as possible so that everyone gets a chance to compete. We want to find the next potential MMA super-star.”

The fighters will then be going through a training camp under a specific gym. “We will be first, selecting people from these auditions. Suppose we get 20 from each city, then we have a total of 80. Then we will be bringing all of them under the same roof. That is where they will train. From there we will get our final 20, who will compete amongst themselves to be a part of the Team India.” It is this team that will represent India in the Kumite 1 League.

This league will be a three-country league. “After our showcase event, we plan on to have a three-country league in Dubai. It hasn’t yet been decided which countries will be competing, but India is for sure going to be there. The plan, for now, is to follow this 3 country league, by an 8 country league in Las Vegas in 2020. In that league, we will have Russia, USA, Brazil, and all other MMA super-powers.” While the plan does sound grand and sorted, it’s still a long way to go before we actually see all of this. However, having a raw team compete against the titans of MMA super-powers just doesn’t sound right. The team which is representing India at the showcase event is way more experienced and has proven that they are the best Indian MMA fighters. “I would love to have the same team represent India at the league but the problem is most of them are signed in exclusive contracts. They all have been signed for one fight contracts. It is up to them if they want to continue with us or not.” If the fighters are interested they will be a part of Team India. “The events will be in a league format. It is necessary that we have substitutes for each fighter. We have in the past seen in MMA leagues that people have ignored the factor of injuries and have forced injured fighters to compete. That will not happen here.”

The league so far has unveiled that each team will have a total of 11 players. The format is to have 8 locals and 3 foreigners, each backed by a substitute. On September 29 Team India will be tested for the first time and that too in the grandest fashion possible. The event will also be the first-ever MMA event to be judged by a software. “The company has been developing scoring software since last year. We will be having a total of three judges; each judge will be given a red button and a blue button. If a judge feels that a strike is significant then he will press the button of the corner’s color. At least two judges need to click on the button to count a strike as a significant one. Now, this significant strike will go up on the live scoring board. For example, if the fighter from the red corner throws a strike and as per at least two judges it’s a significant strike, then on the live scoring board the strike will be shown. There will also be a guy who counts the number of takedowns and ground control. This too will go up on the live board. When the round ends, the significant strike of each fighter is shown. The one with more significant strike wins the round. The fighter who wins the maximum number of rounds wins the match,” said Somesh. The system, on paper, sounds as if it covers almost every factor, but it does leave a few loopholes. For instance, a fighter can land less significant strikes and yet do more damage. Agreeing upon it the CEO of Kumite 1 League said, “You can’t put a figure on certain factors. You can’t have a number on damage, aggression or octagon control, hence, we have not factored them.” While the promotion is ready for their showcase event, they do realize that new angles like these may result in a severe backlash.

This grand set-up created is going to be backed by the mega-brand of Mike Tyson. The former heavyweight boxing world champion will be gracing the event. Somesh says, “When you have someone like Tyson attending, the event automatically becomes larger than life. This will surely get in many people.” However, having Tyson does mean that most fights will be overshadowed. In the past, various promotions have invited multiple stars to attend their first event in an attempt to draw mega numbers. However, as they venture deeper into the MMA market, they lose the audience. The Kumite 1 League team has already factored that in. Somesh says, “The reason why they don’t carry the same numbers after the star leaves is that they don’t have that latch-in factor. The star does bring in eyeballs, but he can’t be the factor which makes the audience tune in for the fights. I believe that our fights are going to be very entertaining. That is what makes us different from others.”

Credit: Kumite 1 League

As we start discussing what others are doing, it is impossible not to talk about competition. The Indian MMA market at the present moment is more or less a free market, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t strong investors. You have various companies, like SFL which has managed to bring in almost every major Indian MMA fighter under their brand, to Brave which is now coming back stronger than before in December. Surviving in this market without major brand support does seem difficult. Somesh, however, feels the efficiency of the team beats the unfair factors. “The reason why it looks as if one company dominates the Indian MMA market is because so far only one company had a grand opening. Whereas they at the present moment do have strong sponsor support I believe the team at Kumite 1 League is way more focused which gives us an edge over them and others.”

MMA is not recognized as a sport by the government of India. This makes it very difficult for the majority of the population to know the difference between MMA and pro-wrestling. Somesh believes that it doesn’t really concern an MMA promotion. “Educating the audience is a different ball game. Whereas we do think that once people start watching MMA they will eventually understand what MMA is. Hopefully, they will appreciate it.”

Which brings us on the final note of the interview: what is the target audience for the first event? Somesh believes that the event needs to be massy. “We do realize that there is a specific MMA audience but I would want the event to be a bit massy. See to attract the Indian audience we need Bollywood and cricket stars. So if we have the two the game changes immediately. That is why we have been keen on attracting Bollywood stars. That is the same reason why we have Public weigh-ins in Palladium Mall, High Street Phoenix.”

Kumite 1 League will be live and free on SONY SIX in India on September 29, 2018.