In a country where women are still predominantly homemakers, where arranged marriage is rife and daughters are sometimes still married off in exchange for wealth, it is remarkable to see females take up fighting as a sport.
It is a country where it is still taboo for women to show flesh and even hold hands in public, so it is difficult to imagine the prejudice that any Indian female fighter may face on her route into the sport. To the credit of SFL, they created the SFL Challengers TV show specifically looking to show that females had a place in MMA and there was a chance for progression.
Now, the Indian public and MMA fans all over the world get to see the progress from the very beginning for fighters like Gurleen Kaur. The 19 year old from Punjab was one of the stars of show, getting all the way to the final where she lost against Manjit Kolekar. Gurleen fights Monika this Friday in her second professional fight, the first being her loss in the final.
“The SFL Challengers show was an awesome experience, not just for the competition but also the living situation, staying in that house with the other competitors.”
“We got to train with fighters like Sanja Sucevic and see what it takes to compete in MMA. She has a lot of dedication and that is what we must match to ever reach her kind of level.”
Gurleen admits that there is always prejudice but it is something she feels the SFL will help end. In the meantime, all any of India’s female fighters can do is continue to show they belong in a cage fighting on a show alongside their male counterparts.
“There is always prejudice, it is just something we will face. It has not been easy trying to make my way in the sport, telling people I am going to be fighting for a living. But I am lucky to have had constant support from my family and now it is looking like it may work out for me.”
MMA has made superstars out of the likes of Ronda Rousey and Gina Carrano and India has its own female fighting star in amateur boxing sensation Mary Kom, someone who is now working as an ambassador for SFL.
“It is great to have Mary Kom working with us. She is an inspiration to us female fighters and gives us encouragement as we progress in the sport.”
“With everything SFL has done we have seen Indian MMA progress massively in a relatively short time. As long as we can keep this up we can one day see Indian fighters – male and female – compete with the best in the world.“
Gurleen herself has made huge progress, having come from a Wushu martial-arts background, only getting into MMA when the opportunity came through SFL. She has since been taught by the likes of Dan Isaac, Alan Fernandes and Sanja Sucevic, world renowned coaches that have helped her progress no end.
“I do some light training every day. Thanks to the coaches I now throw combinations and I am also much better on the ground. I do two sessions every day; cardio and technique in the morning and then sparring in the evening.”
Although Gurleen claims the fame SFL Challengers has brought her has not affected her life in any way, it has affected her attitude, giving her a taste of what can be achieved in this sport.
“I see fighters like Ronda Rousey and I hope I can make an impact like that in India, inspiring other females to take part in MMA.”
“I am just looking to win, win and win, maybe eventually getting a rematch with Manjit Kolekar to avenge my loss in the final of SFL Challengers. For now, I concentrate on my opponent on Friday but long term I want to be the best female fighter in SFL.”
With Indian MMA growing literally every week, fighters like Gurleen Kaur have a huge chance to stamp their mark on the sport. Still at the fledgling stage, it is not going to be an easy road but thanks to SFL, the path is now there, for men and for women.
***This event will be streamed LIVE starting at 11:30am ET on Friday 16th on SFL’s Youtube channel.