Almost all of India will have its eyes fixed on Rohit Shama’s men opening their T20 World Cup cricket campaign in Melbourne against Pakistan on Sunday. However, a small but steadily growing group of athletes and fans will also keenly follow updates from Yas Bay, Abu Dhabi.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) UFC 280 event has just ended in smashing fashion, with Islam Makhachev submitting former champion Charles Oliveira to clinch the lightweight title. For Indian MMA fans, however, the action is just getting started.
On Sunday evening, India’s lightweight fighter Anshul Jubli will step up for his Road to UFC semifinal at the Etihad Arena against South Korea’s Kyung Pyo Kim. The Road to UFC is the first of its kind from UFC in seven years. It presents a ‘win and advance’ opportunity to the best Asian MMA prospects across four weight divisions: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight.
The 27-year-old Anshul comes from the gorgeous backdrops of Uttarkashi in north India, and he will be aiming to become the first Indian-born fighter to record a win in the UFC’s coveted Octagon.
How did Anshul qualify for the semifinals without a win?
On June 9, 2022, Anshul was ready to take on Japan’s Patrick Sho Usami in the quarterfinal in Singapore. However, Usami failed to make weight during the mandatory weigh-ins, and Anshul made a straight cut to the last four.
“I was disappointed. For two-three hours I could not move or talk. After two days, I was feeling okay. And I had to take it positively so that I can move forward. It was good in a way because I wanted to perform so badly at that time. Now, I want to perform more eagerly. All the things that I thought would happen, win in a certain way, become the first Indian to win in the Road to UFC stage…I am more prepared now, with a sort of hunting mentality this time,” Anshul told Sportstar while reflecting on his less-than-ideal route to the semifinal.
Anshul took to MMA fighting in 2015 and has been undefeated since debut across the Amateur and Pro Levels. His strongest test yet, however, lies right ahead of him when he faces Pyo Kim, who has a sturdy (11-3-0) MMA record and had some fight time out in the Singapore quarterfinals.
The “Red Horse” Pyo Kim waltzed his Chinese opponent Asikeerbai Jinensibieke in 30 seconds in a first-round KO win to set up a clash with Anshul. Eight of Pyo Kim’s 11 pro MMA wins have come in the first round - six of which have come in blitzing KO/TKO finishes.
WATCH: Full interview with Anshul Jubli
“King of Lions” Anshul has worked on finetuning his range over the last four months with coach Siddharth Singh and his home gym Crosstrain Fight Club in Delhi. “I had to fix a few things in my game which are important for fighting at the highest levels. I have worked on certain aspects of my striking and grappling. It’s a never-ending process,” he said on the eve of his fight.
Anshul remains buoyant about his chances against a fierce opponent and is aiming to seal his first win in the tournament in time before Diwali back in India on Monday.
“He (Pyo Kim) is a very skilled fighter. He comes very strong in the first round. He is a grappler with good hands, but I believe my grappling is better. And I feel my striking is cleaner and better as well. Obviously, an odd punch or kick can knock you out, but we can’t go into a fight thinking about that. I must believe I am better than him in all aspects,” Anshul remarked as he stands on the cusp of a potentially game-changing day for the Indian MMA fraternity.
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