New Delhi, May 30 (IANSlife): Since its inception in 2019, Matrix Fight Night (MFN) has established itself as the biggest Mixed-Martial Arts promotion in India. With 11 editions across India and UAE, MFN has become a phenomenon and has seen some of the best MMA stars from all around the world competing for the top honours. But launching an MMA promotion in India, a cricket-loving nation, was a herculean task in itself.
In the first two episodes of MFN Podcast, launched on Spotify, co-founders Krishna Shroff and Ayesha Shroff, the dynamic mother-daughter duo, opened up on the journey for the conceptualisation of the promotion and the challenges they have faced in their journey.
"In 2017, MFN truly became an idea. I had been following the sport of MMA for about 20 years and for one of the weekends, I took mom along with me," Krishna recalled.
"She sat there and experienced a live fight for the first time and was totally blown away. We got back and she was like, 'we have to do this because we could so much better'. I immediately jumped on board. My brother fully backed the idea and we became a dream team," she further added.
Ayesha Shroff further recalled the moment when she witnessed her first live MMA fight. "Tiger had the opportunity to be a part of a MMA team. He was obligated to attend an event but he was caught up and asked me to go in his place. Watching the show, I was hooked for life. There was nothing more exciting than watching a live fight."
For the Shroff family, the decision to go into the MMA route was a tough one, especially with cricket, football and kabaddi seeing massive fan engagement in the country from sporting fans. To invest in a cricket or a football franchise or a league would have been a simpler path to follow. But the rebel streak in the mother-daughter duo kept them on the unexpected journey.
"MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world but in India it has been an uphill struggle. Even after 11 shows, I still get asked the difference between MMA and WWE. If I was doing cricket, I would have people signing me blank checks. Here, we have to work show-to-show to get ourselves sponsors," Ayesha Shroff said.
Krishna added, "Dad (Jackie Shroff) also did not understand the sport first and it took him a couple of years to truly grasp the technicality of the sport and the vision. Now he is completely on board and supports us 100 per cent. He even wakes up every Sunday at 7 a.m. to watch all the UFC fights and has become a fan of the sport."
For the MFN co-founders, one of the critical reasons for starting MFN was to provide a platform for the Indian fighters who did not have ample opportunities to showcase their talent on the global scale. And now, as MFN enters its 12th edition, the MFN promoters are moving on with the same vision.
"It never was a vanity project for us. The intention was always to give the Indian fighters what they truly deserve. The intention continues after 11 editions of MFN. All our focus is to get them to the next level," Ayesha Shroff said.
"I have so much respect for these athletes. More than the physicality, it's their mental strength that really intrigues me. It is a blessing to be around these guys so up close and personal and feed off of that. It motivates me," Krishna added.
Despite the hurdles, Matrix Fight Night, which onboarded Disney+Hotstar as broadcasting partners last year, has become synonomous with MMA in India. The 12th edition of MFN is set to take place on July 1 at the Noida Indoor Stadium, Sector 21 and promises another cracking show.
"If we did not have the long-term vision for it, we would have been shut down real quick," Krishna said. "My mom and I, when we are hands on, we do not need anyone but us. We truly believe we can do our work ourselves the best. We trust ourselves the most. This is our baby at the end of the day. No one will put in the time as we would."
"MMA is a mind-game. I believe to be an MMA fighter, you need to have a little extra. It takes very special kind of person to get into the cage and have the door locked behind you, face your opponent and get into a beautiful and technical fight," Ayesha Shroff signed off.