India's 'King of Lions' vows to pounce on UFC chance

·3-min read

There are 1.4 billion people in India but none currently on the books of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Anshul "King of Lions" Jubli believes he's about to change that.

The 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter this week takes his unbeaten 5-0 record to Singapore and the inaugural Asia-wide edition of the "Road to UFC".

The tournament is designed to unearth untapped potential from the region and Jubli believes that he will win -- and the floodgates will open for Indian fighters wanting to join the world's major MMA promotion.

"Getting to the UFC is the dream," Jubli, who fights in the lightweight category, told AFP.

"I can promise you that once I get signed that within four years you will see many, many Indian fighters follow me. This is just the beginning."

There has previously been one Indian-born fighter with a UFC contract, featherweight Bharat Khandare, who in 2017 lost his only fight and was consequently let go.

Jubli was born in the picturesque northern Indian mountain town of Uttarkashi and his father was in the Indian Army's border security forces.

The young Jubli ended up going with him to postings all over the country, before deciding to follow in his footsteps and sign up.

That's when Jubli's life changed forever.

"I started learning MMA because I knew it would help with my army physical exams, but I soon realised it was MMA that I wanted to do, not join the army," said Jubli.

"My father is quite happy but I know my mother still hopes that I will quit and become a doctor or a lawyer. There's no chance of that.

"I am strong, I have all the skills and I am only getting better and better."

- 'Pressure-cooker' -

After a 13-0 run through India's amateur MMA ranks, Jubli turned professional in 2019 and is unbeaten since.

Road to UFC is the first edition of an Asia-wide version of the UFC's The Ultimate Fighter series which has unearthed 11 future champions, among them current welterweight king, the Nigerian-American Kamaru Usman.

It offers a window of opportunity for 32 fighters from as far afield as India and China, Indonesia and the Philippines, nations that are among the world's major population centres but relatively unrepresented on the global stage, in a sport that bills itself as the fastest growing on the planet.

Jubli will be joined in the lightweight tournament by compatriot Pawan Maan (7-2-1). The victors this week will proceed to further events later in the year and, if they keeping winning, the chance for a UFC contract.

"You've got to imagine if you take just India and China, the billions of people they have there, then there has to be some incredible, incredible talent somewhere," UFC president Dana White told AFP.

"This tournament is a good way to get these kids some experience. Put them in a little bit of a pressure-cooker situation and see how they do."

- 'Ready to rock' -

Road to UFC kicks off at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Thursday as part of the lead-up to Sunday's UFC 275 in the city-state.

The double world championship bill features the light heavyweight clash between Brazilian champ Glover Teixeira and Czech Jiri Prochazka, and the women's flyweight title fight between Kyrgyzstan-born Valentina Shevchenko and Brazil's Taila Santos.

There is also a return to action for China's strawweight former world champion Zhang Weili.

It is the first time the UFC has held title fights in Southeast Asia.

Jubli is nowhere near that level yet, but believes that when he enters the cage for his fight against Japan's Sho Usami (4-1) on Friday he will show that the UFC is where he belongs.

"I think I'm the best fighter in India," said Jubli.

"I truly, truly believe that I am the best. I'll win this fight and I'll win this tournament.

"I'm very prepared mentally, I'm prepared physically and I'm ready to rock."

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