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Interview with Fitness Fight Club Founder Austin Prakesh

The White Collar Bouts (WCB) take place on 19th November, Saturday, in Bengaluru

Exclusive 19 Nov 2016, 17:24 IST
Austin Prakesh, the founder of FFC ( photo courtesy Hindu)

Eight fights, sixteen fighters, hundreds of fans and one noble cause; courtesy of Fitness Fight Club (FFC), the third edition of White Collar Bouts (WCB) is all set to go on floors on 19th November 2016, 7 pm at the Taj West End. Despite an explosive card being headlined by a Championship bout, this is not your everyday boxing event as the proceeds of the night will go towards funding heart surgeries for children.

The charity event is the brainchild of retired Singapore Armed Forces member and the founder of FFC, Austin Prakesh. 

We caught up with the man himself before the event.

How did you come up with the novel idea of incorporating martial arts and charity?

Well, I’ve been boxing professionally since the age of 16. Eventually, we were called in to do a charity fight. We did it because we were young and we felt it was kind of cool to fight for charity. So we did it, and I and my cousin realized it was the biggest opportunity for charity. We saw the kids; it’s a different world, a different feel and it is very satisfying. So we decided why not fight for charity than to fight for money. We’ve been doing it since 2009 and then my cousin passed away, stopped for two years and then got back into action in 2011.

So was that the only factor that fuelled the whole attempt? 

The whole point is to fight for a cause. We all fight every day. We fight with our wives, girlfriends, etc, etc.! Fighting is such a norm, right? So why not fight for something that could raise money for future generations. There a lot of sick people who aren't getting a shot at life. And a lot of them have these heart problems, cardiovascular issues. So why not put on the gloves, stay healthy, fight for them, raise some money and help them get a shot at life.I’ve been fighting in charity events since 2007.

We did charity for Cambodia and Vietnam among other events. And then we decided to move on with the whole thing around the world. Now it’s India with our focus being Sri Lanka next. The goal is first to get 1000 heart surgeries done in India before moving to Sri Lanka. I think Sri Lanka will give me the same challenge as what India gets me. The thing is that I’m trained now to tackle these obstacles from a perspective of being in India for a while, and I feel I’ll address the same in Sri Lanka.

Tell us more about the participants in this event and their training?

Oh my gosh! So our youngest fighter is 16 and the oldest is 33, and all have been members of FFC for a while. WCB fight training goes for 12 weeks. They pretty much train like any other professional – getting on the wing, using the same training equipment; just like how Muhammad Ali or Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather train. Basically, the safety perspective changes as there's more emphasis on safety because our fighters have day jobs. Our boxers train like pro boxers with the same schedule, and it's the same for kickboxers. To keep it simple, the concept of fighting is not like running a 10 km marathon or cycling, you know I mean this is fighting, every punch is going to hurt.

So the concept of being healthy, moving fast, learn a skill and being able to compete for six minutes which is the longest six minutes of someone’s life is a challenge. Now, what happens is when you train somebody for that much time, for example, a year; most average individuals –  say out of ten – six wouldn't mind sparring. And out of the six three would say, “Well I don’t mind fighting.” 

So that’s why you just can’t jump up to a white collar and say, look I'm going to train you, then they’ll throw you into a cage with a professional athlete who’s trained for ages and then let you fight him. People need to understand that we’re doing this to stay healthy and fighting for a cause, which might involve charity or money and still go back to your normal lifestyle – your work, family, and hobby.

The eight bouts this Saturday comprises of fighters from different demographics and age groups, and most interestingly, none of them are working professionals with an added penchant for martial arts. 

Displaying The FFC community including WCB 2016 fighters who are giving it all for a cause.JPG

What is the training regime prior to the event?

There are two training camps a day; one is in the day for those who can come every day, and one is in the evening. The training goes on for an hour and a half. We start by warming up for around 20-25 minutes, and then we move up to skipping, conditioning, shadow boxing, and weight training.

This goes on for around 25 minutes. There's a lot of speed work with a minutes’ rest. Instead of training for two minutes per round, most of them train for five minutes per round. So this goes on for about eight weeks, after which we get into 25% sparring in the 10th week, and progress to 50% sparring in the 11th and 12th week. And then two days before the fight, they’re ready to go full steam. 

The event is restricted to Boxing and Kickboxing. Why was MMA left out?

You can’t do MMA because you have to understand that everybody that’s fighting is a professional with day jobs. You can’t be a CEO and fight because he needs to get up in the morning and got to a meeting that’s going to bring in a million dollars.

You can’t give everything to only learn MMA. You’re in this to stay fit, to stay healthy and to change your lifestyle, so that even at the age of 50, you can go out fight and not get popped. So this is a hobby and not a profession you’re looking at. You can’t take MMA and turn it into a hobby. You can learn it, yes, but you can’t walk into the cage just like that because someone might break you face, head or legs.

You can get a 16-inch cut on your eye. You have to understand that there are certain things to this sport. There a full on Triathalon that hardly anyone does. How many guys are doing it America? Not many right? MMA is a huge sport that needs you to cut aside everything. You have to cut aside your work and your family to train for it. So that’s what makes an athlete and athlete and the rest just train like athletes. So they can’t do compete fully, but they still do things that they think they can do, which downed around a white collar bout.

Do you think that with the evolution of striking in MMA with the likes of ‘next-gen strikers’ such as McGregor, Wonderboy and Dominic Cruz taking over the sport that Boxing would affect MMA?

Okay. So you have classic, and you have future. Let’s bring it down to the cars, right. So you have your classic cars, and then you have your Aventador's. There is a market for classic cars regardless of how far you’re going to travel in the future, whether your car could fly in the air or not, people still love classic cars.

So you have your classic fighter who is the boxer, and then you have everything else; the Jui-Jitsu, Mui Thai, kickboxing. It all has to start from the basics, right? You always train somebody on how to punch. So I don’t think anything is going to take over anything. Yes, one could be more popular than the other, but that doesn’t mean the classics are going to get paid more than the future sport of MMA.

I mean if you strip an MMA fighter off his kicks, takedowns, and submissions, it’s like stripping a Ferrari of everything and saying that you can only use the gear. It’s  not going to run faster than a skyline. Right now MMA is big because the marketing is big, the fighters are huge with different styles of submission, striking, and takedowns being employed. There is a huge crowd for boxing because it’s still a classic sport. Maybe a hundred years from now when all the old people die, and we won’t have the classic people left who love the classic sport, then maybe MMA would be the future sport. Until, then you know, people will love the classic sport. 

Displaying Austin Prakesh with WCB belt holders from previous WCBs - Rehan Khergamwala and Xerxes Bodhanwala.JPG

Do you think training for MMA is harder than training for boxing or kickboxing?

Training for anything is harder than not training. I can’t label a piece of training in a particular category, but if it’s entirely MMA, and if you follow the McGregors and Alvarez' and all the guys who are fighting, you’ll understand that it’s not about how long you train but how you train. It’s not the length of training but the type of training.

At the same time, it’s also about the mindset of the person who is training and also the mindset of the trainer. So everything has to be put together to create that puzzle. It’s not something someone can one day jump up and say, hey I’m going to do MMA. It doesn’t work like that. It’s like getting up in the morning and saying I’m going to get married. It doesn’t work like that.

There’s a lot of work to, a particular perspective is required and the understanding of what is expected to push through. In order to do that you need to have a lot of support. The family comes, in the place comes in and the financial assistance; I mean there’s a lot of factors that come into play. I would say even running is physical unless you start big. Based on your character and what you love, anything you take could be easy in the future, if you find out that’s what you love.

One of the major difference between MMA and boxing is that all the elite MMA fighters are under one banner, i.e., the UFC with Bellator also trying to reach that level, whereas, in boxing, the fighters have their allegiances with separate promotions. Do you feel this is hampering the sport?

There are still many banners for MMA. There are a lot of fights happening but the focus is just on the UFC based on the fact that they promote a lot more fights. I feel there are enough promotions for MMA that have been around the world. But I believe every sport has gone up and downs. I mean today if you go to Brazil, everyone’s going to tell you that Conor McGregor would be the easiest fighter to fight with. I sit down with the Jui Jitsu guy in my gym, rolling around, and if you ask him about Conor McGregor, he’ll tell you that even the simplest fighter from Brazil can make Conor McGregor tap out within one round. But then again who’s matching him up, who’s cutting the card. At the end of the day, you need people to watch the fights. A lifespan of a fighter is probably five years and as a promoter, if you want to make that money, you have five years to make the big bucks before you find the next guy, which you may not find even 10 years down the line. At the end of the day, it’s a business that involves you to train, be an athlete,  professional. A lot of things come into play – raw power, recovery, age – so it’s a whole lot of work.

Do you plan to integrate other fight institutions and fight against them for the same cause? Do you plan on expanding?

Yes certainly is will be expanded. We want to go to Mumbai, Delhi and see what can be done there. But what we wouldn't do is take one White Collar and fight another gym and the reason being it’s hard to control what other organizations do with their athletes. We don’t know the other guys that well and the organization. Once in Hong Kong, a fight was organized where one gym had their rookie killed as he was matched up against a veteran. So we don’t want out fighters do get into all of this. 

In the fight business, every time you go out on that stage, your heart is racing, the adrenaline is high, the fighters are pumped and so are the fans, and when you put all of that together, you can send a rocket to the moon. That’s what we want to create, we want to create such massive energy that people always remember for being off the hook. It’s a hype that we’re creating.

Finally, I would like to tell the people that we’re fighting for one cause; it’s a night of entertainment, and I want the fighters and fans to enjoy the show. I just want the people to know that none of my fighters are making any money, they've put in so much work for this and I just want them to be appreciated.  

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