Seven years back, Rafael dos Anjos broke his jaw during a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight – an injury that needed a titanium fusion surgery. Still, there is no scar on his face. In fact, the Brazilian can easily blend into the melting pot society that makes up Singapore.
But for his ears. Swollen and disfigured, the ‘cauliflower ears,’ – Indians know it more commonly as ‘wrestler’s ears’ – make him stand out. Professionally, he isn’t a wrestler. On Saturday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, the former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Champion will take on Belgian Tarec Saffiedine in a welterweight match.
Yet in a sport that showcases swift kicks and sharp forearm jabs, dos Anjos’ ears fit in perfectly well. For, freestyle wrestling – the same that is professed at the Olympics, in mud-surface akhadas and in the latest Salman Khan starrer – is that one component of mixed martial arts that is considered the absolute essential.
“It’s the glue that holds everything together,” says former athlete and UFC commentator Daniel Hardy. “If you are a good wrestler, then you can dictate where the fight goes, whether it is staying on your feet or go to the floor. It’s the foundation of mixed martial arts, and all fighters practice it in some way or the other.”
Oriental martial arts, such as taekwondo, karate or Muay Thai in turn, play supporting roles. “Boxing too is good, but you can neutralise it with kicks that Muay Thai teaches,” says veteran MMA fighter Jorge Masvidal. “But even if you’re good at that, but you can’t stop a take down or a pin, then it doesn’t matter. So wrestling is something that you need.”
As the name suggests, a successful competitor will need to get the amalgamation of the various contact sports right. Main event fighter Bethe Correia’s coach, Tiago Tourro calls it ‘the formula.’ “You can’t train a lot in one without doing the other things. Bethe has a lot of power in her punches, and she trains for boxing for three hours a week, and another three hours for Jiu Jitsu,” he says.
Correia takes on Holly Holm, who rose to fame after putting an end to Ronda Rousey – UFC’s poster girl. Holm had previously carved for herself a successful professional boxing career, boasting a 33-2 record. Her movement in the ring too is dictated by her experience as a pugilist, employing calculated movements to accompany the jabs she throws at opponents.
But that cannot be her only weapon. “You need to be trained in MMA. That means a lot of wrestling,” says Tourro.
TV Timings – UFC Fight Night, Sony ESPN/Sony ESPN HD, 17:30 hrs