MFN 7: English teacher to MMA fighter - the story of Ishika Thite

Ishika Thite is set for the strawweight division bout against Manipur’s Jojo Rajkumari on Friday.

A hesitant risk-taker, Tithe was content with her part-time job as an English teacher as long as it accommodated her training in the evening.   -  Ishika Thite/MFN

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Ishika Thite is set for the strawweight division bout against Manipur’s Jojo Rajkumari at Matrix Fight Night (MFN) 7 in Hyderabad on Friday.

Thite will head into the contest after a victory via a unanimous decision against Naipunya Sunil at MFN 4 in February 2020.

But the life of an Indian MMA fighter is not easy. And Thite is aware that there will be no help from the government to lift this sport. “The government is not going to support MMA anytime soon. We are used to it. When I came into MMA, I knew that unless it is an Olympic game, the government is never going to support it. In Gujarat, they bluntly say that this is not an Olympic sport, and we don’t have a quota for this sport,” Thite, the first pro-MMA fighter from Gujarat, said.

“If you see UFC and One Championship, it gets really difficult for Indian fighters to fight. MFN is an amazing matchmaker. The fighters are equally matched. That’s how a fighter develops level-wise and goes on to become amazing. MFN is bringing an amazing platform for Indians and now they are also getting foreigners,” she explained.

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Due to lack of funds, MMA fighters need to take up other jobs and balancing the two can be hectic. “Before you get the money, it is all gone. You have to invest in the fight camp, you must travel, you have to get your nutrition. In a year you can at most fight two to three fights, and that’s not a lot of money. You have to have another source of income.”

Taking a leaf out of her own experience, Tithe advised aspiring MMA fighters to temper their passion for the sport with a backup plan.

“What if you never become a fighter? It is not easy to become a fighter. I always have a backup plan. Although I had my teaching job which I left, I had certain savings that I could bank on if my fighting career didn’t take off,” she added.

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A hesitant risk-taker, Tithe was content with her part-time job as an English teacher as long as it accommodated her training in the evening despite her father urging her to start a venture of her own.

However, watching her friend Puja Tomar in action at the Super Fight League reignited her passion. “Once saw the event I was convinced I wanted to do this. Then I went back to Delhi and trained with them – that was my first training in MMA. Then I found this way too interesting – it is not just Muay Thai or kickboxing that I have been doing. I went to Phuket to learn the basics,” she said.

Inducted into the world of combat sports at the age of four by her father, a martial artist himself, Tithe transitioned from karate and kickboxing to MMA in 2016. She burst onto the MMA stage in 2018 when she won the national championship in the atomweight category following which Alan Fenandes, the Managing Director of MFN, roped her into the promotion.  “If a person has done it (combat sports) since childhood, then the grasping is very easy. But if a person directly learns MMA, then they are a clean slate,” she said, adding that adapting to MMA was a process of unlearning as she had to eschew her karate footwork which was irrelevant to the sport.

Tithe coaches children in karate, kickboxing and MMA and plans on starting a couple of centres in Ahmedabad and Surat. With two to three years still left until her retirement, Tithe aspires to explore other promotions to up her game but insists that she will stick around with MFN since loyalty is paramount.

“UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is not for this life for sure. But you will see my son or daughter in some big leagues one day,” she signed off.

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