It was in July of 2017 that Ronaldinho came to Pakistan for the first time ever for the Leisure Leagues tournament, and I was lucky enough to grab a seat for when BRAVE 17, Pakistan’s first ever International MMA bout hit Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. I met up with one of my close friends after a long time, and decided that what would be a better way to catch up on old times than to see two grown men battle it out to a single blood battering conclusion?

The atmosphere was electric, the strobe lights surged with a source of unending energy and the canvas was swept clean as we took our seats for an event that was to be the first of its kind in the nation’s history books.

Nishtar Park was packed with fight-loving fanatics that screamed their hearts out as they witnessed the awing intensity of MMA’s best fighting it out in a ring that would feature 10 fights in total, each scheduled for a maximum of 3 rounds. As the hands on my watch struck 7 ‘o clock, we were given a very warm welcome by the announcer, Carlos Kremmer, who was dressed in a ravishing green velvet blazer (and was nice enough to wave back at me when I waved at him). Soon enough, the pre-fight trailers transitioned into the images of the actual fighters as one by one, each fighter made his way into the ring, oozing with confidence as they prepared to do battle in the circle for the first time ever in Pakistan!

The first bout was a match between two local Pakistani competitors, Abbas Khan from KPK and Sikandar Baddar from Multan. We weren’t sure what to expect, and the entire crowd was left staggered after Sikandar tasted defeat in only 14 seconds after suffering a technical knockout at the hands of Abbas. After surviving through a flurry of fists while in a clench, the young lad managed to escape from his opponent’s grasp, only to be deemed unfit to continue by the referee.

At that point, I felt as if my thirst for the true MMA feeling hadn’t been adequately quenched, but that was not to last much longer. The second fight consisted of a highly competitive struggle between our country’s son, Najam Khan who fought Mohammed Wasim of Afghanistan. As Najam entered the ring, I notice how he was slightly limping – and that limp seemed to be the bullseye for Wasim. It was only after Najam managed a 3rd round knockout that I was told that the limp was actually because Najam had actually suffered from polio in his youth, and subsequently had a defective leg. That very fact sent shivers down my spine and brought about a whole new level of respect for not only Najam – but for the MMA sport in its entirety.

After that, we witnessed an exquisite display of quick paced action in the strawweight division as Haider Farman went face to face Ariel Oliveros from Philippines. The match went to and fro, with an assortment of lighting fast strikes from both ends, but it was eventually Haider Farman who managed to hold his hand up in victory after tying his opponent up in the corner, and then succeeding with the knockout.

Next up was arguably my favourite fight of the entire night. Zia Mashwani against Yibugele. This was the former’s first ever professional fight, and he seemed absolutely unfazed as he walked into the ring with eyes intent. The latter however, had a rather theatrical entrance, supporting what seemed to be some ancient Chinese headgear. What I noticed particularly was that when Yibugele went for the sportsmanlike fist bump at the beginning, Zia refused to bump fists and instead returned with a single leg drop kick which I found to be rather unsportsmanlike. Eventually, however, the fight soon grew more and more fierce with Yibugele being busted open within moments of the first round, while Zia suffered a sharp cut around his left eye near the end of the second round. For most of the match, it seemed as if Zia was dominating with his forward and aggressive approach. Yet, right in the middle of the second round, Yibugele escaped from a clinch and after a series of missed strikes from Zia’s end Yibugele managed to connect with a quite-literally jaw dropping haymaker that set Zia to sleep, and won the match for the Chinese fighter. When the match did conclude though, and Zia was woken up, he did then hug his opponent in a show of sportsmanship that he should have initially portrayed.

The fifth fight on the card had controversy written all over it. A clash of the bantamweights between JP Buys of South Africa and Gamzat Magomedov of Russia. From the onset, JP seemed to have a speed advantage, which seemed ironic since his entrance featured the song “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. This speed advantage went to the core of the fight, as when he was cornered, Magomodev proceeded with a vigorous and unrelenting attack which cost him the fight as his hammerfists soon became 12-6 elbow strikes, which are illegal in the sport. Subsequently, he was disqualified and the fighter seemed incensed about this as he attacked JP after the fight had ended, which prompted security and JP’s guards to step into the ring and stop the altercation before Gamzat stormed out of the area, and a profusely bleeding JP Buys was carried into the backroom area – being unable to stand on his feet.

The fight between Mehmosh Raza (Pakistan) and Arben Escayo (Phillipines) managed to last only 23 seconds before Mehmosh forced his opponent into submission after a rear naked choke. In a similar manner, Aidan James from Wales choked out “the Black Mamba” Frans Miambo of South Africa within the first round too.

What happened in the next fight, however, won the hearts of Pakistanis everywhere. Uloomi Karim faced the Philippino fighter Jeremy Pacatiw in what was a performance worthy of its advertised hype. Uloomi had his lost vision in his right eye after being landed with a straight hook. In spite of this, the crowd were right behind him and the rampant chants of “Pakistan Zindabad” coursed throughout the entire arena as Uloomi battled on until the very end in the third round. There were many moments during the match where it seemed as if Pacatiw had already won, but it was the willpower and undying effort of Uloomi that kept him in the match, before he succumbed to a strike in the final round.

The main event of the evening certainly lived up to its potential, and it took a unanimous vote to confirm the winner at the end of the 3 brutal rounds. The 35-year-old Brazilian Ricardo Cavalherio went one on one with the undefeated Russian “Conqueror” Abdoul Abdouraguimov in the welterweigh division. The experience of the Brazilian was immediately showcased as soon as the fight ensued as he dodged a number of strikes, and eventually Abdoul fell to the ground after a missed heel kick. Cavalherio kept his distance, his movement was impeccable and he almost seemed to be dancing as the light shimmered off his chiseled biceps as his arms went up and down in defense. The Russian seemed to be in no mood to tango, however, as he delivered a number of jabs to the face, disorientating Cavalherio and then attempting to punish him by repeatedly taking him down to the mat. A show of athleticism on the Brazilian’s part was how he managed to completely evade a takedown attempt by leaping into the air and forcing Abdoul to crash into the cage, but despite his efforts, he lost on points to the undefeated Russian.

All in all, this fight card was nothing short of a phenomenal Saturday night. From competition to controversy, it had its fair share in all aspects, but most importantly, it achieved its aim of bringing the MMA sport into the spotlight in front of the nation of Pakistan. Thank you Brave 17, it was a spectacle indeed.

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