Pune’s close-contact connoisseur bringing back the glory days of MMA through new fanatics
Meet city’s ‘original’ mixed martial arts coach Ismaile Haji, ensuring the glory of old is alive in today’s new MMA fanaticspune Updated: Jun 06, 2018 16:38 IST
The name Ismaile Haji has been synonymous with all things mixed martial arts (MMA) in the city for 13 years. If one was to come across a fighter in the city and asked them who their trainer was, they were likely to repeat that very name. The 42-year-old has trained a generation of fighters through his classes at Taboot street. In many ways, he is the flag-bearer of MMA in the city.
His love for combat sports can be traced back to his childhood. He still vividly recollects the day when he decided that he wanted to take up a career in MMA.
“The story begins way back to when I was in Class 6. I had gone with my father to watch Bruce Lee’s movie, Enter The Dragon. It was an A-rated film and I was denied entry, but somehow I managed to sneak in. The movie changed my life. That’s when I decided that I wanted to do something like Bruce Lee. What he did on screen looked fantastic.”
Despite the surge in the popularity of the sport across the world, Haji claims that MMA had more recognition back in the 1980s and 1990s than it does now. There were two trainers in the city back then who conducted classes and people had a connection with the art in the past, according to Haji.
While his love for MMA is well known, Haji did not always start off as a mixed martial artist. His first encounter with combat sports came through karate. He trained and virtually mastered the sport after a decade and a half of intense practice before he decided to venture into something with broader boundaries.
“I felt that there were a number of limitations in Karate. So, I contacted Daniel Isaac, the founder and national director of the all India mixed martial arts association, and trained rigorously under him before starting my own practice in the city,” said Haji.
The 42-year-old, through his classes, aims to bring back the same love for the sport that he saw in the 1980s and 1990s. With the growing interest in the sport among youngsters watching the ultimate fighting championship (UFC), it is only a matter of time before more people take up the sport professionally.
“I believe in keeping my students interested. I like to mix things around because if I tell them to do one thing over and over again, they are bound to get bored. I also put a lot of emphasis on strength training. Earlier, people believed that lifting weights would slow you down, but that is not true. Even Bruce Lee used to heavy squat. Thus, along with technique, I put an emphasis on strength training as well as stamina building,” said Haji.
A number of people that have trained under the 42-year-old have competed and won in a number of amateur tournaments. He has also guided a number of fighters to the professional level in the national circuit.
His undying passion and motivation for the sport has shaped his life as well as his students’.
Chopsy Oberoi (Represented India in Season 2 of the Ultimate Beastmaster): “Ismaile’s class is unlike any other. His training seems so raw, but that is how he wants it to be. He offers all his students one-on-one and personal attention and corrects their every mistake. He takes us to our limits and at times MMA training is more rigorous than my gym sessions. In many ways, he is like a personal trainer. He teaches us every little thing about MMA. He primarily focuses on techniques, stamina and strength and you actually enjoy what you do.
Sajdeh Satari (20-year-old girl training MMA for the past four years): “MMA is a discipline-based sport and I am extremely happy that I am a part of it. I have been training for the last four years and I’ve loved every minute of it. It is very hard to let go. It makes me confident about myself and it also makes me feel a lot more secure. I would love making MMA my side career if things go as planned. For me, it is not just an option for self defence.”