Bharat ‘Daring’ Khandare was fighting a Chinese fighter on enemy territory, contending against a late-ish replacement only two weeks out from the fight and shouldering the responsibility of being the first Indian-born fighter tasked with awakening a slumbering country to the sport of MMA.
He probably had to navigate through a weight cut on fight week, adjust to a pronounced culture shock in mainland China and bat away the jitters of performing for the first time ever on the biggest stage possible.
Most of all though, he had to internalise the fact that he was answerable to the people from a nation that glorifies successful sporting conquests to the heavens, while condemning failures to the depths of hell.
And he had to do all of this while attempting to prevent a highly touted Chinese prospect, only 19-years-old, from knocking his block straight off.
As you can see, the template for a rousing underdog story had well and truly been set at the UFC Fight Night Shanghai.
All that remained, then, was for Bharat Khandare to rise to the occasion and paint his masterpiece.
4 minutes 16 seconds
That's exactly how long it took Song Yadong to have Khandare tapping out frantically to a mysterious-looking front choke.
Of course, for all his preparation in the akharas and subsequent professional experience at India’s very own SFL, chances that Khandare had come across a choke as uncommon and effective as the one that Yadong employed were slim to none.
Thrust into a situation he was unlikely to have encountered in training and amply motivated by a nasty compression on his carotid artery, Khandare surrendered meekly to his survival instincts.
But the manner of his defeat didn’t quite rankle as much as the disappointment that preceded it did.
Throughout the duration of the fight, Khandare stumbled through a grand total of three significant strikes that he managed to land on his opponent.
He almost fell over himself a number of times in the process of stringing them together too, attempting ridiculous spinning backfist techniques and off-balance kicks that Yadong nonchalantly strafed clear of.
His opponent’s aim, on the other hand, was as hard as it was true.
And although he didn’t really trouble the scorers in terms of volume, he dropped Khandare twice with stinging, piston-like shots that upon landing, resonated the chasm in skill between the two men.
Sadly, despite being known as an accomplished grappler, there was also nothing to suggest that Khandare’s mastery is his poison of choice either.
The only attempted takedown in the fight was borne out of sheer desperation, and that too after Yadong’s hands had tightened around his neck. By that time though, it hardly mattered what Khandare did.
The finish to the fight was all but inevitable already.
And just like that, the page had flipped – on a night when the Indian could have scripted the greatest chapter of his career, he hardly even managed to make a mark.
Khandare’s Loss Symptomatic of MMA’s Sorry State in India
As a nation, it’s pretty well known that India seeks political parity with its Chinese counterparts on many fronts.
But even as five out of the eight Chinese fighters on display emerged triumphant, the listless failure of India’s lone representative stood out in chilling juxtaposition.
Khandare’s lacklustre show at the UFC Fight Night Shanghai isn’t something that could be explained as a bad night or as his opponent landing a lucky punch. In fact, it was far from it, symptomatic of MMA’s sorry state in India.
In the absence of solid grassroot development, monetary incentive for aspiring fighters and a unified governing body that actively seeks to engender traction for the sport, hardly any Indian fighters make it past the amateur ranks in the first place.
And the select few that do manage to, are generally found acutely wanting in their skill sets when they step up in competition – like Bharat Khandare on 25 November night.
How utterly coincidental is it that each loss that Khandare has suffered in his professional career has only come when he stepped outside India to challenge himself on the international stage?
And how many more Indian fighters need to be ‘exposed’ in a similar manner before the larger picture finally unfurls itself to those that swear by MMA in the country?
In a nation where the sport’s development is very much still in its nascent stages, it is imperative that the foundations for success and future growth are set in stone right away.
For Indian MMA doesn’t enjoy the benefit of an ambassador like Nita Ambani appearing on television screens nationwide, peddling it as the sport of the future. It doesn’t have the means to entice the top fighters in the world to compete under one cash-rich banner like the ISL or the IPL do for their respective sports.
All it has is a defiant standard-bearer in the shape of Bharat Khandare.
And his loss against Song Yadong at UFC Fight Night Shanghai – while bitterly disappointing – still serves to tell us everything we need to know about the steep road that lies ahead.
(A student of psychology, Aditya Rangarajan's passion lies in the thrill-a-minute realms of combat sports and pro wrestling, where he uses his experience in the matters of the mind to glean insightful, unique and thought-provoking perspectives.)
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