Monday, January 12, 2015

The Super Fight League : Devil in disguise ??? Part 1 of 2

On the 6th of July 2014 a relatively unknown sports news website Sportskeeda first published an article entitled "The devil in disguise : exposing the truth about mma in India". The article being controversial in nature was immediately picked up by many mma news sites including Yahoo news India. Within a matter of days this article became the talking point of mma fans and enthusiasts in India and abroad. Suddenly Indias first mainstream mma promotion was labelled "The Devil in disguise" But who is there to verify such allegations ? and who is there to keep a check whether the ones writing these articles are genuine writers or such press stories are typical examples of professional rivalry between the mma / martial arts community? In this modern age where anyone and I mean just anyone can call him or herself a 'writer' social media websites like facebook and twitter or even personal blogs can say just anything about anyone and sometimes we just bite the bait. In this article I ask the questions "Was the SFL a victim of rival mma promotions in India and south east asia who went out on a rampage to defame the SFL because of its sudden rise to fame in 2012 ? were such articles a result of 'paid posters' from other mma promotions or were these articles and allegations a result of bad blood between ex-employees and the SFL management ? "There are so many genuine possibilities for the reason of this and other articles which have seemed to have taken a no-reason hatred towards this new mma promotion. Joe Rogan once said "You cant beat the internet" and I believe its only time which can prove what is an allegation and what is the truth but dont you think that websites like Yahoo news India should have verified such claims before unjustly 'defaming' the SFL ? Or is it ok to make baseless accusations against someone just because he has the sound of $$$ to his name or because he is associated with cricket and bollywood ? The SFL has been silent about such allegations and the chairman Raj Kundra never ever answered this article.  "Did Raj Kundra receive threats about this article before it was published ? Did he refuse to pay the ones threatening him and this article was that result ? " Please note an important fact that in early 2014 [ just a few weeks before this article went live] a group of SFL fighters arrived at the SFL mumbai office and threatened to beat up the staff and employees if their were not "set free from their SFL contracts" , they promised to take this to the press / media and even manhandled some of the SFL staff in mumbai. So keeping all of this in mind lets take a look back to december 2011 , lets investigate the series of events which led to the shutting down of the SFL India operations. Lets not point the finger without gaining knowledge about both sides of the story. Lets allow the facts to speak for themselves and truth prevail. Once thing is for sure , the article threatened to bring about a part two by voicing the grievences of fighters who 'gathered their courage' to speak up against the SFL. Its almost a year now but that second part never surfaced. Why would you the reader think so ? Was it because there wasnt any truth to these allegations ? Was it because the ones sponsoring this media campaign against the SFL were unable to fulfil their monetary promises to the SFL fighters for speaking against the SFL ? Was this article just another attempt to make money of off 'Scandalous news" ??? because the website seems to dedicate much more articles to sports entertainment rather than combat sports. I have decided to write this article to present you the reader with the facts that I personally know. I write this article not as the AIMMAA National commissioner or as the ex-COO or ex-CEO of the SFL , I write this article as Daniel Isaac the martial artist and human being. I promise to present the facts as you have never seen before. The facts and data you will see shared here are all based on evidence that I have personally known and seen being involved at management level with the SFL. Lets investigate the facts and retrace the steps that the SFL took starting december 2011. If you are in a hurry now is not the time to read this article , you need to read this with some free time and a cup of tea or coffee , you need to read this article with an open mind. So sit back relax , take a deep breath and lets start. Firts as a disclaimer : " I Daniel Isaac through this article do not intend to hurt anyones feelings or question anyones integrity , I do not intend to speak against any person website or business establishment , I place before you the facts and data and all pictures uploaded here are my own and clicked either with my own cameras or I have full rights to use all other pictures , the decision is upto you the readers. The article on my blog is a reply to what I believe was an unjust media / press attack on the company which brought mainstream MMA to India "

Dec 2011 : Raj Kundra at his first meeting with the AIMMAA officials at its mumbai training headquarters
Dec 2011 : Businessman Raj Kundra visits the training headquarters of the AIMMAA in Mumbai and proposes to develop the sport of mma in India by creating a new mma promotion called the Super Fight League. Mr Kundra attends an intense training session with some of Indias top mma fighters and trainers, after a meeting and detailed discussion he agrees for the SFL to follow all protocol of international standards for fighter health and safety.

Free of cost training was arranged for the Indian mma fighters. 
 A State of the art weight training facility was provided for the Indian mma fighters - all free of cost. 

Jan 2012 :  As a sign of goodwill towards the MMA community in India the SFL sets up a training camp and invites Andy Wang [ Ultimate fighter veteran] and Darren de silva [ Muay thai coach from Singapore]. The two coaches and a squad of Indian mma fighters are provided with free training , accommodation and a monthly salary. All costs of travel , accommodation , nutrition and supplements are borne by the SFL. Mid-way through the camp the SFL invites US based MMA fighter Eliot Corley and BJJ instructor Rama Reddy to assist with the training of the Indian mma fighters. It is important to note that these Indian mma fighters who had left their 9 to 5 jobs and their families to train for the SFL were given a monthly salary just to train full time under the SFL training camp. Being paid a full months salary just to pursue the sport you love ? Wow !

Darren da silva [ left] , Andy Wang coaches of season # 1 of the SFL training camp and Indian mma fighters after SFL 1 Mumbai.
The SFL hired national level pro boxing coach Kamal Mujtaba to work on the striking of the Indian mma fighters. 
SFL training camp season # 1 featuring Rama Reddy [ bjj instructor] , Eliot Corley [ pro mma fighter and instructor ] Jitendra Khare [ strength / conditioning coach] and Kamal Mujtaba along with the SFL India mma fighters. All costs for these specialized instructors including travel costs , accomodation and monthly salaries was provided for the above featured expert coaches. 
The training camp featured 6 days a week training twice a day and covered striking , wrestling , submissions , strength / conditioning , weight-training and fight psychology. The SFL even provided the camp fighters with training clothing and mma gear which otherwise they would have needed to purchase themselves
Feb 2012 : After reviewing the fighters training reports and progress , the SFL offers 2 year contracts to a selected number of Indian mma fighters who have excelled in their training. The AIMMAA monitors all the documentation and works jointly with the SFL to ensure the terms and fair to both the promotion and the fighters. All fighters sign their contracts in good faith , on their own free will , in-person at the SFL mumbai office and in the presence of the SFL staff and legal team.

Indian mma fighters Ricky Ranjeet Singh and Anup Kumar with SFL Chairman Raj Kundra and Legal consultant Anil Chavan after signing and receiving their contracts. The SFL fulfilled their contractual obligations and featured both these fighters on a main event fightcard in Delhi and Chandigarh which was watched on national tv channels across India as well as on youtube across the globe. 

Mohd Shahid signs and receives his SFL contract from Chairman Raj KundraIndian. The SFL fulfilled their contractual obligations and featured this fighter on a main event fightcard in Mumbai which was watched on national tv channels across India as well as on youtube across the globe. Post this fight the SFL paid for tests , surgery and post fight rehab of this fighter as a result of a dislocated shoulder during the fight. 

Chaitanya Gavali , mumbai mma fighter after receiving his SFL contract from chairman Raj Kundra. Do these pictures look like fighters who have been 'forced' to sign contracts that they have knowledge of ? The SFL fulfilled their contractual obligations and featured this fighter on a main event fightcard in Mumbai and Chandigarh which was watched on national tv channels across India as well as on youtube across the globe.
 Between 11th march and 6th may 2012 the SFL promotes 3 world class big budget mma shows at Chandigarh , Mumbai and Delhi. The biggest show is held at IG stadium delhi with a packed house of 15 thousand spectators - with an effort to promote the sport to all - passes for the lay man and VIPs are issued free of cost. Sports minister Ajay Maken attends the event as chief guest and witnesses the international standards of the delhi show. AIMMAA sanctions and supervises all 3 shows – all fighters are required to clear mandatory medical tests , ALL performers , staff and officials are paid for their involvement at the event. Costs of international and national flights , 5 star accommodation covering all 3 meals , airport pickup / dropoff , fighter fees and all costs for the production , event management and tv telecasts are borne by the SFL. Within their contracts all fighters are provided a 25 lac [ approx 40 k $ usd] post fight insurance insurance cover. Over the 3 shows : International fighters James Thompson , Joey Guel , Mohd Shahid , Neil Natasadu , Ikuhisa Minowa and Doug Marshall are hospitalised post their fights. All these fighters are provided with top class hospitalization and are treated by the best sports doctors in these metors , all are discharged after being cleared by the doctors. Post the event ALL fighters are paid their fighter fees and win bonuses including fight of the night etc as per their signed contracts.

For every SFL fight sanctioned by the AIMMAA the following clauses were included in the fighter contract , the AIMMAA confirms that all the clauses were honoured by the SFL from SFL 1 till SFL 34 as follows for all indian and international fighters [ male and female] :

1. Appearance fee paid to fighter - depending on C , B or A category [ as per the fighters experience / record] meaning that even if he lost he would be paid a fee.

2. Win bonus - apart from the above appearance fee the fighter would be paid a win bonus which usually was the exact amount as the appearance fee when he / she won the bout e.g Rs 50 thousand was paid if the fighter lost and rs 50 thousand plus rs 50 thousand [ 1 lac] to the winning fighter.

3. Travel costs - the SFL booked round trip flights for every fighter and his / her cornerman to compete at an SFL show , in certain cases 3rd AC or 2nd AC was booked.

4. Accomodation - each fighter was provided with a twin sharing room , so the fighter and his / her cornerman were provided a room and all three meals.

5. Pre-fight medical coverage : each fighter had to complete a medical protocol which costed approx Rs 10 thousand per fighter [ hiv , hep a , b and c , liver function etc ] , the SFL paid for these medical costs.

6. Post fight medical arrangements and insurance - each fighter who required to be hospitalised had all expenses paid for and in cases of surgery the insurance cover again provided by SFL covered all costs.

7. Airport pick up and drop off - for fighter and cornerman in a hired AC car.

James Thompson vs Bob Sapp headlined the news and media across mumbai and other metros in India leading up the first ever big budget mma show promoted by the SFL in Mumbai. 
Raj Kundra has always been a hands-on chairman , I have seen him at the setup stage of every SFL show ensuring that all his staff are taken care off and learning / understanding / gaining a first-hand experience of the Sport and technicalities of the Business of MMA. 

Sports minister attends an SFL show. 
SFL 1 Mumbai 

SFL 1 , Main event

Phil Baroni and Jeff Osbourne commentating at SFL 1

A section of the crowd at SFL 1 Mumbai

One of the hundreds of articles promoting MMA and Indian mma fighters - courtesy the Super Fight League
Amul loves the SFL !
Life size hoarding in Juhu , Mumbai
Indian mma fighters receive front page coverage compared to Olympic level athletes courtesy the Super fight league
Not just promotions but educating the masses about the Sport
On completion of SFL # 1 in Mumbai and on the suggestion of CEO Ken Pavia the SFL hires UFC veteran Dennis Hallman to train the Indian mma fighters. Hallman and Strikeforce veteran Benji Radach take up quarters at the SFL training centre in India for almost 3 months. At the start of the camp Hallman and Radach supervise an India open mma tryouts which give opportunities to all aspiring fighters to join the camp. Those who were selected at these Tryouts received a training scholarship and once again were entitled to free of cost training and accomodation. All costs for this second season of the training camp including international flights , hotel accomodation , nutrition / supplements and training were covered by the SFL.

On the 5th of August 2012 the SFL launched Indias first mma reality show "SFL Challengers" , the show aired on Neo prime and Zoom and featured 8 male and 8 female contestants. The show was viewed across the nation by both sport and martial arts enthusiasts.

SFL team at the filming of episode 1 of SFL challengers

The SFL trainers at the reality show SFL Challengers were put up for 3 months at the Hilton , mumbai

A life size hoarding of SFL challengers at marine drive Mumbai

SFL chairman Raj Kundra , Dejan Tesic and Sanja Sucevic

Contestants and training team of SFL Challengers

From 12th oct 2012 the SFL began its next season "Friday Fight Nights" and during this season the SFL promoted 10 shows featuring national and international mma fighters. Friday fight nights also featured Indian sports personalities Mary Kom and Sushil Kumar. FFN was telecasted weekly LIVE on neo prime [ an indian sports channel] and received nationwide and international coverage.

Indian sports star Mary Kom [ middle]

SFL Friday fight nights setup at Saki Naka Mumbai

SFL Friday fight nights

Headlines coverage at Bombay times for SFL Friday fight nights.

SFL trained and promoted its fighters to superstar status. 

SFL promoted its fighters on national and international TV at every opportunity. 

Indian sports star Sushil Kumar. 

Olympic wrestler Sushil Kumar at SFL Friday fight nights. 

The article says and I quote "While everyone would agree that SFL had failed miserably" , who may i ask is this 'everyone' ? How can an article make quotes like this without giving references to names and authentic quotes ? This was the scene at every SFL press conference held across the country. The press and media were house full at every major SFL announcement. Pictures speak louder than words - as below :

SFL fighter scholarships : Although not officially part of their contracts the SFL provided all its 2012 signed Indian fighters with a years stock of protein and nutritional supplements. Pics below feature national and international fighters receiving supplement gift packs from SFL sponsors. The first picture below shows a fresh stock of supplements arrives for the season # 1 indian camp fighters :

A fresh stock of supplements arrive at the SFL training camp at Season # 1 [ SFL 1-3]

Apart from the SFL reality show , The season # 1 and # 2 training camp for the Indian fighters provided consultancy services of doctors and nutritionists to ensure that the fighters stayed healthy.
Towards the end of season # 1 and just prior to the SFL challengers reality show the Super Fight League took three [ 3 bedroom] bungalows on a two year lease , completely furnished the houses complete with TVs , Air-conditioners , Fridges and provided the in-house fighters with food and nutrition.
SFL coach Benji Radach celebrating his birthday in India

SFL training squad and fighters having some fun time after training

Coach Dennis Hallman leading the Indian fighters through a submission fighting workshop

A view from inside one of the houses that the SFL took for the Indian fighters

A full furnished kitchen for the Indian fighters
The Glitz , the glamour , the publicity and the protocol 

So now as per this beautifully written article it would seem that the SFL office would be at some secret basement of an old abandoned building and the fighters would be brought in blindfolded and then forced to sign their contracts at gun-point yeah ? Well here are some pictures of the SFL staff during the fighters contract signing : the SFL accounts and legal team are available to discuss , clarify doubts / concerns and only when all is clear do the fighters sign their contracts :

Spanish female fighter Karla Benitez and her manager Chinto Mordillo discuss contract clauses with SFL head of accounts team

Still more questions and the SFL staff are more than happy to help

Now its the SFL legal head to take over and help Coach Chinto understand the details of the contract clauses

All clear ! Karla Benitez signs her contract and ready to fight !

Egypt top team manager khaled signing contracts

Mumbai based fighter Arif Khan signing his contract

An indian fighter reads through his contract ...

All clear and he signs

Wushu champ Uchit signs his contract

Super striker Sandeep Yadav signs his contract
SFL brings , sponsors and supports world class standards for Indian mma officials and fighters : throughout the first season of the SFL and with input from the AIMMAA - The SFL flew in world class mma officials to organise training camps for the AIMMAA Indian officials as , many of these top officials worked at SFL 1 , 2 and 3 as well :

2012 Sports Minister attends SFL # 3 and congratulates Indian fighter Anup Kumar
Indian mma officials after a training workshop featuring Ultimate fighter contestant Andy Wang and MMA coach Darren da silva from singapore. The SFL fully supported all costs for the Indian mma officials to be trained and certified under unified rules .
Another training workshop for mma officials prior to the SFL Challengers reality tv show sponsored by the SFL.
Super referee Yuji Shimada of Pride fame !
Current UFC fighter Luke Rockhold [ left] attended SFL # 2 and praised the SFL staff and team for organising the show at a world class level , Coach Dennis Hallman introduced the Indian mma officials to all the necessary paperwork and documentation required for mma judges , referees , timekeepers and inspectors.
Pride Japan MMA referee Yuji Shimada

UFC referee Bass Singh

UFC referee Herb Dean

UFC referee Marc Goddard

UFC judge Brian Beauchamp

Raghu Ram of MTV Roadies fame

Shilpa Shetty Kundra

Red carpet entrance

So , by the end of year 2012 the SFL has fulfilled all its promises. It has promoted MMA to the highest level in India. It has brought mma to the masses it has been featured LIVE and delayed on Neo Prime , Neo Sports , Zoom , Colors and various news channels. It has flown in international mma experts to help develop the local scene. It has spent God knows how much to invest into the sport of MMA. It has paid for travel , stay , food and drink for its fighters , instructors and officials. It has paid salaries and allowances to its fighters At the end of year # 1 the SFL has spent much more than its proposed budget but it is still committed to promote and develop MMA in India.   Continued in Part 2