'I could not walk or even talk properly', recalls Sangram Singh, wrestler-turned-MMA fighter

New Delhi, June 19 (IANS): Sangram Singh recently announced his intentions to become the first Indian male athlete to enter the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) at the age of 38.

The former WWP Commonwealth heavyweight champion spoke to IANS in an exclusive conversation to discuss his journey, why he took such a huge step this late in his career, what motivates him, and how he plans to dive into Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the future.

"I am just starting off. I believe UFC and MMA are sisters. I was approached by UFC as well but I believe I should start with MMA, as it is basically the same thing. Like in wrestling, there is Greco-Roman and freestyle. When it comes to representing your country, it does not matter where you do it, so surely, UFC is in my future plans as well.

"Someone was joking with me to try out cricket as well. Life is very short, so you should try to inspire at every chance you get, and I believe the best way to live is selfless living," Singh told IANS.

Despite having a great build after years of hard work and having an illustrious career that has spanned over 25 years, the former wrestling champion went on to reveal that his life has not been easy, how he motivated himself to never give up, and why he decided to make a comeback into the field of combat sports.

"I used to suffer from medical problems; I could not walk or even talk properly. The rejection I got from life was my motivation to excel. A kid who could not even stand got into wrestling. I started with mud wrestling and went on to represent my country. I got into pro wrestling and went on to become the Commonwealth heavyweight champion and the best professional wrestler in the world.

"Wrestling has been struggling in the past two years with the protest and everything going on with Brij Bhushan and to see our wrestlers Sakhi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and all going through such tough situations was a sad time for the sport. A lot of parents were against their kids entering the field, which is why I came back to fight after many years,” Singh said.

Sangram was on a six-year hiatus and recently made his comeback into wrestling when he defeated Pakistan’s Muhammad Saeed at the Dubai Pro Wrestling Championship. He aims to continue his wrestling career alongside his MMA stint.

"I remember Sushil Kumar reviving wrestling when he won the bronze medal in 2008 Olympics, and when I started, I had taken wrestling from mud to a five-star arena. When I used to go out, people started saying, 'ye to wo wrestler hai jo Big Boss me aaya'. I am not a cricketer that people will see me at the IPL, World Cup or Ranji Trophy.

"When I was in Dubai, I was approached to join the field of Mixed Martial Arts and I thought about it and knew that it was a tough sport. I decided to talk to my brother’s and sister’s kids and they told me 'Chachu who watches wrestling, we either watch soccer or MMA'. They knew all the stars. So, I decided to become the first Indian man to enter the field at this age," said Singh.

"Ritu Phogat joined MMA from wrestling and Puja Tomas as well. They are both like my younger sisters. I met them and saw that their major focus was on defense. India has a large viewership base, and MMA is a beautiful sport, so I thought if I do MMA, then it’ll be beneficial to me as well as the sport because then I could inspire the youth to do whatever they want to do. Simple living, high thinking,” he added.

The 38-year-old is full of life and is very excited to get into the ring for his MMA debut. He went on to talk about the difficulties of the sport and how he faces them with a smile.

"It’s fun when the competition is difficult. A wrestler’s grip is very strong, and if you see, the MMA champions of the world are those who did not get the chance to represent their country like Khabib (Nurmagomedov). He was not able to become a wrestler and hence got into MMA. I am not saying anyone is less, but it can only be a fun experience if there is competition. I know it’s difficult, but that’s why I am doing it; if it were easy, then anyone could have done it," he said.

"I believe that life always has two paths: risk or regret. Always choose risk, because if you do, you will never regret it. I feel that if I am able to do this, then I am doing it for all those kids who dream of playing sports or those who give up. The champion is not one who wins the gold medals, I believe it is the one who keeps on trying, and that champion lives inside all of us, be it in any field,” Singh added.

Singh further revealed that he is likely to make his MMA debut before the end of the year and is aspiring to inspire many kids through his latest venture.

"This year you will get to see my MMA match. Another good thing about this generation is social media. I have become a sort of a celebrity athlete, and they shower me with love, so I am very excited. I am waiting to announce the date. In the end, I believe that if even one kid gets inspired by my bout then it will be a successful outing," he concluded.