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Raw action thrills
There were two entertainment options last Sunday evening: watching a re-run of The Zookeeper or heading for the Super Fight League, a mixed martial arts competition. More than 7, 000 people in Delhi last Sunday chose the cage over the couch.
The SFL, India's first-ever professional MMA league, is just three rounds old - it kickstarted in Mumbai and then Chandigarh - but by the time the carnival punched its way to Delhi, the 'sportainment' power of Bollywood gaana-bajaana and full combat battles had the spectators filling up the Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium.
It takes only seconds for a circle of onlookers to form when two strangers come to blows on the street. So a fight night where boxers, wrestlers and kickboxers - both male and female - look ready to knock the sense out of each other is every man's wet dream. And years of watching WWE have given younger Indians a taste for the real thing.
In Mumbai, the Fight Nights, organised by Full Contact Championship (FCC) for the past three years, have also become a popular and alternative entertainment option. Held in derelict film studios, the fights pit young men boxers and wrestlers from small towns who stand to earn anything between Rs 10, 000 and Rs 20, 000 in one night.
Raj Kundra, who's involved in the IPL as co-owner of the Rajasthan Royals and is the mind behind SFL, thinks that there's a huge potential for 'fight culture' to grow. "Keeping fit, six pack abs, fights...are all part of this time, so why not give a platform to make money out of it and not just give everything to cricket, " he asks.
This weekend's SFL had all the usual suspects - on-the-fringe-of-page-3 celebrities, innumerable government officials and their kin and a disproportionate number of bouncers. But the stars of the night, more so than the Bollywood starlets, were the beefy men in tight shorts. The fighters, who came from all over the world and Canada had arms the size of bolsters and chains as thick as ropes round their necks. As they strutted in to the strains of 'Supper Fiiight Leeeeague', two blondes, with never-ending legs in skirts that ended as soon as they began, walked around the fight cage with boards to denote different rounds.
Karan Lamba and two of his friends attended the SFL more out of curiosity than anything, but the blood, glitz and the raw power of the fights left him feeling more satisfied than he had imagined. "I really liked it. The blood and raw action was a lot of fun. "
People are no longer content with watching sports on television. They want to see and be in the midst of it all. So if the earlier option was catching your favourite wrestling stars fakechoke each other on television, today you get the real deal. And even if you aren't a big fan, like 17-year-old Priya Sharma, it's something to talk about when all that everybody else did was watch a movie or gurgle on a hookah. "I wasn't really keen on watching people pummel each other but my brother and his friends were, so I just decided to tag along, " she says. The next day, her Facebook page, with pictures of Mallika Sherawat gyrating and another of her posing with Sanjay Dutt, was buzzing with likes and comments.
For most people, it's not the love of the sport that draws them to the stadium. For them it's the thrill of being a part of something large and, more importantly, live.
Lamba, who recently quit a job in the banking sector to join his family business, is a regular IPL match attendee and admits that he goes to the Kotla ground more to enjoy the feel of a cricket match than to watch the game. "Watching a match live is more of a fun activity and a lot of people don't mind spending an evening or an entire day at the stadium. Anything that doesn't involve sitting in front of the television is a good enough option, " he says.
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