Everything boils down to this weekend for India’s MMA star Anshul Jubli and coach Siddharth Singh.
After a year of extensive toil, Anshul will be stepping up for the Road to UFC lightweight final against Indonesia’s Jeka Saragih during the preliminary card of UFC Fight Night 218 in Las Vegas on Saturday (Sunday morning in India). A win will beckon history as Anshul will become only the second Indian-born man to bag a UFC contract.
Anshul received a quarterfinal bye due to his opponent’s weight-management issues in June. He later overcame South Korea’s KyeongPyo Kim by the skin of his teeth - a 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 split-decision win in Abu Dhabi in October - to reach the final.
Three months have passed and the 28-year-old has seemingly undergone a tremendous upgrade in his physique. Anshul typically prefers to go off the radar for a month or two before preparing for a bout. However, given the limited time and high stakes, he was quickly back to the grind.
“After the semifinal fight, I and his other coaches were not satisfied with his performance. I have told this before and I’m telling it again, we haven’t seen his full potential out yet. That was a fight where he’d probably shown 60 per cent of his skills. Usually, after a fight, he has a break of about two months where he puts on some more weight before going into the preparation for his next bout.
“This time, we put him straight back in. We sent him with our S&C coach (Deepak KC) to Bali to prepare and stay in better physical condition from the get-go,” Anshul’s coach Siddharth Singh told Sportstar.
While Anshul had previously prepared for his bouts at Siddharth’s club (Crosstrain) in Delhi and the Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand, his team decided to send him to the SOMA Fight Club in Bali, Indonesia this time.
“Anshul was about to start preparations at Tiger Muay Thai. But one of my students, Punyajit Likharu, who is an MFN fighter told me about Bali. He was preparing at both Tiger Muay Thai and the SOMA fight club. He told me that this is the place Anshul should be before the final. Most of the Road to UFC fighters were preparing from there. The owner Mike was a good friend as well, so we decided to send Anshul. There has been overall progress in his range now. His grappling has gotten better, the striking range has improved and he is in very good shape,” Siddharth remarked.
Siddharth also weighed in on Anshul’s journey under him since 2018. “There is absolutely no comparison between the kid that I first met and now. He was clueless about the basics. Now, he can give tough competition to national-level boxers. His striking abilities have reached a whole new level. His kickboxing has been great and his MMA skills would put him among the very best in Asia.”
Siddharth said the team has zeroed in on its tactics against the fierce Indonesian fighter in Saragih. Saragih holds a strong 13-2 record with five successive wins since 2020, including four knockout finishes and a decision victory. Saragih had also quashed Anshul’s compatriot, Pawan Maan Singh, with a spinning back fist KO in the quarterfinal.
“I feel Saragih has been underestimated by his opponents due to his short stature. He even knocked out the other Indian and is a fierce striker, who likes to finish his games in KOs. We are pretty concrete in our plans and I’m hopeful that would help Anshul go through and earn the UFC contract,” Siddarth affirmed.
Anshul has been the frontrunner of India’s MMA hopes since his Matrix Fight Night days when he had notched up a 5-0 record. The man from Uttarkashi also joined elite company recently when he was signed up by Paradigm Sports - a sports management group which also manages UFC giants Conor McGregor and Israel Adesanya.
“This is an incredible achievement, but there’s more to be done. Indians never thought that this was possible a few years ago. We did not have the infrastructure, the skills or the mindset to reach the elite level. Anshul has changed that and I’m sure that he will be the flagbearer for what’s to come in the next decade. A lot more Indians will be up in MMA and I believe, MMA will be the second-most followed sport in India behind cricket in the next 10 years. If Anshul manages to win here, it’s going to have the same effect as Kapil Dev leading India to the 1983 World Cup win,” said Siddharth.
Road to UFC Final card
Flyweight: SeungGuk Choi vs HyunSung Park
Bantamweight: Toshiomo Kazama vs Rinya Nakamura
Featherweight: Yi Zha vs JeongYeong Lee
Lightweight: Jeka Saragih vs Anshul Jubli
The Road to UFC final card will be live from 8:30am IST on February 5, Sunday in India.