Exclusive interview with Jitendra Khare of Evolution MMA, Mumbai
Evolution MMA is leading a revolution. One of the few gyms in India that has professional MMA fighters competing on a global stage, they are on the front lines of the MMA story in the country.
Recently, two of their fighters, Chaitanya Gavali, and Yadwinder Singh fought at the inaugural World Series of Fighting – Global Championship. They have coaches from around the world and send their athletes to train around the world.
In an exclusive interview, Jitendra Khare tells us how they got here, where they hope to go and all the obstacles in between.
What inspired you to open an MMA gym? How long have you been involved in martial arts?
I have been a martial artist all my life. I took a break from martial arts and was an active powerlifter till I met with a back injury. As part of my rehab, I wanted to get involved with some kind of training that would help me improve my flexibility and strength.
This led me to a fascinating and adventurous journey through many martial arts training centers of Mumbai post which I realized that the country lacks quality martial arts training centers. At that point, I decided to explore the option of starting a training center that would be able to provide legit training to martial arts enthusiasts.
Like most kids I took up karate in school and also was privileged as boxing was part of our sports curriculum. I have also trained mud wrestling for a bit and was privileged to train under one of the best judo coaches in the country, Mr. Ashok Choudhury, who introduced me to the world of grappling.
Do you have a standard method of training or do you adjust your methods to best fit each trainee?
Our training methods for all our trainees, including beginners as well as professional fighters, consists of a curriculum that we have developed based on our learnings at world-class MMA training facilities across Asia, like Fight-G Singapore, AKA Thailand etc.
The only thing that varies is the intensity since most novices won’t be fighting anytime soon and the professional/amateur fighters may be in different parts of their training
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing MMA in India today?
The biggest challenge at the moment is visibility of the sports.
However, like any other sport, it will take MMA time to develop and grow. Currently, I personally feel, is the best time for alternate sports like MMA to grow with attention now being put to sports other than cricket.
Do you ever think Indian MMA will reach the standards set in the West?
I feel it’s too early to tell. Logically that is the goal we want to achieve but having said that I am also aware that practically this is going to take a long time. If you look at the growth of MMA in western countries as well it was organic and did take its time to develop into what it is today.
How difficult is it to find good coaches to fill the gym with?
In India particularly, we have a lot of good coaches for sports like boxing, judo, wrestling etc., but very few that have experience in MMA. It is a challenge for coaches that come from traditional martial arts to understand and adapt their techniques to suit MMA.
What we are experiencing at the moment is a lot of gyms and coaches that claim to train in MMA but actually are traditional martial arts centers.
Personally, it was a struggle for us as well as we spent a lot of time working with so-called MMA coaches. Luckily we soon realized that one of the ways to get legit and experienced coaches to train was to do it by ourselves.
Today we have 3 Muay-Thai graded instructors, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt, and 6 blue belts that are constantly training and evolving themselves so that we can help improve the level of grappling in our gym. Also, most of these are professional MMA fighters as well and hence understand what skills are relevant for MMA.
We are also privileged to work with an NCAA division-1 wrestler, Nick Kilstein, who is also an active MMA fighter himself. This helps us understand not only the basics of wrestling but also what translates into MMA.
Chaitanya Gavali recently fought at WSoF. What was the experience like preparing him for a fight on such a big stage? What was the experience of the event as a whole like?
Chaitanya Gavali and Yadwinder Singh both represented India the inaugural World Series of Fighting-Global Championship and we came back with mixed results, not the result we worked for, but a fair result none-the-less.
It was a great experience working and competing in WSoF-GC. They were thorough professionals and did a brilliant job with their inaugural event. We hope to get back and continue putting the name of Indian MMA of the global map.
The training camp for both the fighters was led by Nick Kilstein and myself. We knew that this fight would bring a lot of eyeballs to Indian MMA. As a result, we cranked up the intensity of the training camp for both our fighters.
We upgraded our training methods to focus on the individual needs of both the fighters. This has helped us identify what works for the team and will help us to adapt and refine our training methodologies for future training camps.
Do you scout local kickboxing/Karate/etc shows to recruit fighters or is it too soon for that?
Currently, we do not scout for any fighters. We have experienced that most traditional martial arts schools and competitions are not very open-minded. We do not intend to get into the politics of martial arts and hence stick to working with people that want to train in MMA by their own accord.
We believe that quality is more important than quantity and we would rather have a few fighters that are interested in training and developing themselves rather than scouting for talent at the moment.
From what I understand, you are switching buildings. What can we expect from the new gym?
The previous gym was a smaller facility. We are moving to a larger facility where we can segregate the various disciplines. We plan to have a separate BJJ room, a Muay-Thai section, and a Strength & Conditioning area so that we can run them independent of each other.
We have been traveling and visiting various world-class academies across Asia and we have been able to understand how best to utilize space for the kind of training we do. This kind of facility will also help us to bring down various world-class coaches from across the world to increase the skills of our fighters.
Is it true that your pro fighters are training at various locations while the new gym is being built up? If so what are the logistical difficulties that go with that?
It has been a struggle for the past year to get a place that suits our requirements and also makes a financial sense. We have been running our training camps out of various places like garages, training sheds, terraces etc. belonging to supportive friends.
There have not been any logistical challenges because as a team everyone is playing their part and we are doing whatever is necessary to get the fighters in their peak shape when it counts.
We also do keep joking that in the hindsight, we will look back at this as a learning and growing phase, one that we all went through together, and one that helped us bond as a team.
Do you take any inspiration from seeing someone like Conor McGregor rise to fame from a country not renowned for its MMA fighters or MMA gyms?
Inspiration comes in all ways and forms. Definitely, Connor McGregor has done a lot and paved the way for future Irish MMA fighters. Hopefully, fighters like Chaitanya Gavali, Yadwinder Singh, Sanjivan Padwal, and Susovan Ghosh could do the same for Indian MMA.
They have already made people in Asia sit up and acknowledge the potential of Indian MMA fighters.
If I am a novice, someone who has never trained before, is there a place for me at Evolution or at this point are you looking only for people who want to go pro?
Our doors are open to everybody, both novices, and aspiring fighters. Like mentioned earlier, the training intensity and techniques will differ. But you will still get to experience the best MMA coaching in the country.
Where do you see Evolution MMA and its pro team in 5 years?
We have a roadmap that we have been working on and hopefully if things go well, we would like to put the first Indian fighter in UFC and also have the very first homegrown BJJ black belt training and competing for India.
To some, this might sound very ambitious, but then in the words of Michelangelo “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
Finally, if people are interested, how can they get in touch?
Interested people can get in touch with Chaitanya Gavali on 9769440251 or Sanjivan Padwal on 9930224405.