For Anshul Jubli, life evolved at the confluence of destiny and passion. There are no fairy tales, no miracles in his story. In his own words, he is “an ordinary man” from the postcard of Uttarkashi, a city in northern India with a rich cultural, religious and yogic heritage. Where it’s headed is the crisp world of combat sports, which practitioners say combines the best of ring craftsmanship, skill, strength, stamina, heart, intention and a calm mind that binds all facets together to sow destruction.
A decade after taking up combat sports as a hobby, Anshul is three wins away from securing a contract for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He will have his chance at the Road to UFC competition in Singapore.
The 27-year-old, who once wanted to join the Indian Army, is about to experience a pivotal moment for himself and for India’s mixed martial arts (MMA) industry. If successful, he will be only the second Indian after Bharat Kandare to win a contract with the biggest MMA promotion in the world. However, it is a contract and a feat that another Indian fighter, Pawan Maan Singh, is also eyeing.
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Both are in the lightweight (70.3kg) division for the tournament, which will give Asia’s top 32 fighters a chance to qualify for the UFC in four weight classes.
Anshul and his trainer, Siddharth Singh, will land in Singapore on June 5, with the first of his three crucial bouts scheduled before UFC 275 on June 10 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Speaking from his training camp at the world-renowned Tiger Muay Thai center in Thailand’s tourist destination of Phuket, Anshul is calm under the weight of opportunity.
The conversation veers to his WhatsApp DP (display image), which features verses from American poet Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… / I took the less traveled one, / And that made all the difference.
Anshul can’t help but look back on his journey. “I read this when I was 16 or 17 at someone’s house Facebook Publish. I didn’t even know it was a poem. But it has stuck with me ever since. Yes, this road has made all the difference (smiles).”
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He appreciates the democratized ways of brutally individual sport. “Everyone, from top athletes to young fighters, trains together. But the top fighters train in the arena on the right, and the newer ones move to the left. I wanted to start somewhere in between because most of them would pick their sparring partner initially and not pick you,” he says.
“When I came here a month earlier, I headed to the right last week. This time when I came, I made a lot of friends and had good partners. It can’t only happen in MMA where you train with the best. For example, even if you are a brilliant prospect in cricket, you would have a hard time training with Virat Kohli, right? You have to go to the Indian team to train with the best. Not so if you want to train with the top 10 athletes in the UFC. Maybe for a fight you may need to enter at the highest level, but not for training.
The Road to UFC lightweight class features two Indians – Anshul Jubli and Pawan Maan Singh. -CFU
For Anshul, whose father worked in the Border Security Force (BSF), combat sports happened in pursuit of a career in the Indian Army and eventually took over his heart. “I started quite late. I understood the sport when I was around 20, and didn’t take it seriously until I was 23.
He made his amateur debut in 2015 and had a disconcerting experience. “Uss time mein MMA ka matlab ye hota tha ki boxers aur wrestlers ek doosre se boy rahe hain (Back then, MMA meant boxers and wrestlers fighting each other). No one understood the art of this sport. My first fight was with a karate specialist. I was a light heavyweight then. I was quite heavy (laughs).
There were about 30 participants in his first competition. “Some were knocked out, one had blood running down his face. I was like, ‘Do I want to do this?’, but after my fight, it was, ‘Oh my god! This is what what I want to do!'”
He considers himself a sports-obsessed student. “I love studying sports science and technology. If we stop talking for two minutes, I’ll start thinking about the last technique I performed again.
Anshul’s pursuit took him to Delhi in 2018, where he joined the Crosstrain Fight Club run by Siddharth. “I am very moved when I speak of Siddharth sir. I remember when I was new to Crosstrain. I won a tournament when Siddharth sponsored my fee,” says Anshul.
Siddharth, India’s first brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), has transformed Anshul into a versatile MMA fighter. Anshul quickly battled his way to the next stage – from Amateur to Pro with a 13-0 record.
The transition took work. “It was not easy (laughs). Everything was fine until the day before the first fight. My first pro fight was in MFN (Matrix Fight Night). Before, I fought in arenas where people had to hold the cage to keep it from falling apart. And all of a sudden, you had these big lights and cameras…a YouTube team, an Instagram team…your interviews are going on…you’re staying in a five-star hotel. Everything was professional,” Anshul said. “I wasn’t nervous but I took my time to adapt. I’m a very, very good fighter (Laughs) and that’s why I succeeded.
Anshul and Siddharth weren’t surprised when the Road to UFC spot arrived.
On the UFC radar
Siddharth is thrilled with the opportunity Anshul has created. “UFC has been monitoring the Indian market since 2008. In 2011, they sent a reconnaissance team to visit various gyms in India to find potential fighters. It didn’t work back then because the infrastructure wasn’t great and few gyms had MMA training.
“When Anshul joined us in 2018 he was an amateur with a few fights but wasn’t a complete fighter. But at Crosstrain he had a boxing trainer, a kickboxing trainer and a wrestling trainer and I was his jiu-jitsu coach. . He then went wild in MFN. There came a time when he wiped out the entire lightweight division. At 70kg in India, he had no one to fight. his last MFN fight, he had an international opponent from the Middle East and he finished it in the first round. He wiped out the whole market. He’s been the face of Indian MMA for two years,” says Siddharth.
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“The Road to UFC focused on three weight classes: 61.2 kg, 66 kg and 70 kg. What they have also done is they have set up a UFC India team which acts as scouts/coordinators with different trainers. They contacted me after Anshul’s last fight in MFN.
“The next discussion was about whether Anshul was a clean fighter. He is a completely natural fighter. He only started taking whey supplements when I offered him one last month. The next thing was whether he could fight in the short term. Again, Anshul is still training and has no off season. So yes, we said we were ready. Ideally, if we had the time, we would have gone to the United States and trained at the AKA (American Kickboxing Academy), but the opportunities don’t wait for you,” says Siddharth.
Anshul training with coach Siddharth Singh. – SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
Anshul and Siddharth were told two weeks ago about his quarter-final opponent, Japan’s Sho “Patrick” Usami. “We don’t know much about him. We saw some of his fights and studied him. He’s one of the most skilled strikers I’ve ever trained. He has very high boxing credentials. He was part of the Japanese Youth Olympic Games boxing team. He won most of his fights by knockout. He is a very high level guy and also trained by former UFC title contender Yushin Okami. No Indian has ever fought an opponent of this caliber.
“If Anshul can pull it off, it will be the biggest win in Indian MMA history,” says Siddharth.
Siddharth thinks Anshul is a unique fighter. “Some people are naturally talented and some are hard working. He’s a mix of both…There’s something about his cognitive ability that helps him pick things up quickly. He’s mentally strong. He’s sacrificed a lot to get there. here and he understands that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Siddharth.