Life of an MMA fighter – Interview with Nelson Paes
For a fan that has followed the evolution of MMA, from the early 90s to the global phenomenon it is today, it is easy to understand just why it is the fastest growing sport in the world.
From North America to Europe, Mixed Martial Arts has now become an alternative for the athletes – a way of life in many ways.
However, the sport is still in its infancy in India, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the people haven’t been educated about the sport. While there are local organizations trying to promote the sport, and the fighters who, against all odds, have decided to pursue their career in MMA, there is a lot more work left to be done.
“Yes, MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the world; in our country, it still does not have the recognition it deserves. To pursue a career in MMA is not difficult, but to stay on top in the business is. The challenging part of this sport is to keep winning. Protect your record and stay unbeaten. If you stay unbeaten, you will move up the ladder. But winning is not easy either, it comes through endless dedication, perseverance & an unprecedented hunger for perfection.”
Those were the words of Nelson Paes, a Goan who dreams about making a name for himself in the world of MMA.
During the early 90s, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship tried to formulate the right structure for the business to thrive, it didn’t take off for nearly a decade. While North America always had a more combat sport – friendly audience, the same cannot be said for India.
Lack of finance is hurting the sport
One of its implications is the lack of sponsors and financial stability for the fighters. “It’s deplorable”, Nelson added.
“When there is a lack of financial viability in any business, it gets difficult for it to grow. If we look at this sport as a business, it’s in very bad shape, but since Combat Cage Fight (CCF) has come through, fighters in India are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Nelson said.
He added, “But we are still nowhere close to what fighters get paid in other countries. It’s difficult to sustain at times; expenses like your coaching, supplements, doctors etc all need to be taken into consideration.”
When we talk about some of the greatest MMA fighters or coaches, we once again have to go back to the United States. With the proper foundation and ground work already laid out in the 90s, it became much easier for the fighters to get into the business.
“Quality coaching will only come through in this country when there is money on offer”, Nelson further added while underlining the current challenges fighters face.
“The absolute need for a fighter is to train at good facilities, expert technicians, experienced support staff etc, and all of this, only money can buy. When it comes to situations of gyms in India in comparison to other countries, it’s miserably inadequate.”
The motivation behind pursuing MMA full-time
When asked about his motivation behind taking up MMA full time, Nelson recounted how he got into the business. “I was about 23 years old I think when I first started training; this was when I was in Pune working for a BPO. But I wasn’t happy there – all the corporate rigmarole. A friend of mine was training and he introduced me to Muay Thai.
Since then it has been an addiction - to the sport. That’s when it all started and I decided – money or no money, I want to fight. Coming to your point about the revolution not being in full swing, I want to be the man who starts it all. I have started it in Goa and I want to take Goa to the pinnacle of the MMA scene.
I have been a sportsman all through my life. Like most Goan boys, I grew up playing Football and Hockey. After I was done with studies, I moved to Pune in the hunt for a job. I worked there for a few years and was doing well, but I was never at peace. That’s when MMA came into my life.”
Nelson, according to Sherdog has fought four times in his professional career, and won his last two fights via TKO and KO. When asked about if he enjoyed the stand-up aspect of the game more than the ground game, Nelson said, “Yes, I do enjoy standing up and fighting, but make no mistake - I am as lethal on the ground as I am when I am on my feet.”
UFC and the importance of local organizations in India
Back in 2012, UFC announced its plans of entering the Indian market. After talking to some of the heads from the UFC such as Marshall Zelaznik and Joe Carr, I was once again reassured that India remains a priority.
However, with UFC still playing the waiting game, we asked Nelson what he thought about someday fighting in one of the top 3 promotions in the world.
“I believe that UFC still has a while before it makes a strong foundation for itself here in India. But yes, if I am given the opportunity, I will stand up to it and be ready to clean up any fighter pitted against me. Be it under any banner or brand. I want to fight and be the best in my division.”
Nelson is scheduled to represent India in his upcoming fight, and he told us all about what it means to him.
“I am going international. It’s impossible to explain in words what it means for me to represent my country. I will be fighting at the Desert Force Championship in Dubai, and the fight is scheduled for January 25th this year and I am training really hard for it. Desert Force Championship is currently the largest Mixed Martial Arts promotion in the UAE. It’s going to be a great show which will be held at the Sky Dive Dubai, Dubai Marina and I am really looking forward to make my country proud,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s previous two fights were under the CCF banner – an organization which has won over the Goan audience, and is set to go national this year. Nelson spoke about the importance of the local organizations, and their role in the fighter development.
“It’s been amazing. CCF has not only given me a shot at what I want to achieve, but for many other fighters around the country. Whatever I have achieved today has been because CCF gave me the opportunity. From where I am, looking at it, sky is the limit for CCF. They already have the best fighters in the country on their roster, and they are putting on the best shows currently – in short there is nothing like CCF here and it’s only going to get better.”
A message for aspiring Mixed Martial Artists of India
Nelson also had words of encouragement for the aspiring MMA fighters in the country.
“Nothing comes easy. Lao Tzu an ancient Chinese philosopher once said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So my advice to guys and girls looking to take up MMA as a profession is to take that first step. Train hard, respect your body, be technically sound and learn to be patient. These are just a few things that they need to keep in mind but let me tell you - nothing can be a substitute to clean and honest hard work.”