Ovais Shah laments way sport is portrayed in media
“We portray our athletes as perpetually poverty-stricken and always in need of financial support. Why would anyone want to take up MMA when such stereotypes are propagated?” questions Ovais Shah, one of the precious few who practice mixed martial arts as a profession in Karachi.
The 31-year-old Shah, who took up the sport 18 years ago and has been training for the past 12, has also featured in the Singapore-based mixed martial arts promotion One Championship.
“We need a shift in how the media portrays Pakistani athletes. A few of the country’s fighters are performing quite well but their financial status overshadows their achievements for some reason,” he said.
Shah was one of the pioneers of the MMA-craze that gripped the country, starting Karachi’s first MMA training institute back in 2007 on a rooftop. Now his gym has spread across several locations in the city.
The physical nature of sparring means the sport is often looked down upon as overly violent but Shah says there is much more to the sport than just mindless violence.
“MMA is seen as a blood sport, but there’s more to it than just that,” said Shah.
The 31-year-old feels such notions discourage aspiring fighters and that a lack of knowledge among the masses means MMA athletes are unable to get sponsors and in turn are unable to afford the kind of training and fitness regimes required to propel them towards mainstream promotions and international stardom.
There is hope though. “A lot of people aren’t even aware that such sports are being played in Pakistan. Social media has increased awareness as well as interest in MMA. For example, a lot of people now know who Conor McGregor and Khabib [Nurmagomedov] are. MMA has started to become more popular because of them and people now know of Pakistani MMA athletes through them. ”
Juggling MMA with the rest
MMA is a sport that has captured the fancy of many people in the country due to its health and self-defence benefits but many are hesitant about taking up the sport or letting their children take up the sport due to the commitment it demands.
“We need to end this notion that you can’t juggle MMA with studies or work. People tell me they often struggle to find the time to exercise, let alone train for MMA,” said Shah. “However, MMA not only strengthens your body but also sharpens your mind so it has various benefits that can be reaped if it is prioritised.”
One of Shah’s students who just completed his MBBS to become a doctor agrees. “After studying for a couple of hours, you need stress relief,” said Humam. “This is a healthy way to get stress relief and you feel more motivated after it since it calms you down. Even if I manage to take out 30 minutes every day for this, I feel that is enough.”