MUMBAI (Reuters) - The small wooden door in a film studio complex deep within the heart of Mumbai creaks open to pumping music, a beer-guzzling crowd and two men raining punches and kicks onto each other in the makeshift ring.
Welcome to India’s very own fight night.
First started around three years ago by Full Contact Championship (FCC), a company founded to promote mixed martial arts, fight nights are slowly gaining popularity in India, a nation where people traditionally have had no inclination to pay money to watch somebody be physically beaten in front of them.
But increasing globalization, and years of growing up watching overseas professional wrestling broadcasts, have given younger Indians a taste for seeing the real thing themselves.
“The first time I went into a fight ring, I froze for a few seconds. There were so many people cheering for me, especially girls,” said a blushing Sangram “Slammer” Bhakre, a 21-year-old mixed martial arts fighter.
Sangram, who is also preparing for his third-year university exams, is a trained wrestler, boxer and wushu fighter who is something of a hero in his local club in Kolhapur, a town 400 km (250 miles) south of Mumbai.
He is like many of the young fighters who take part in the fight nights, young men trained in different types of martial arts who come from small towns where such training is becoming popular. Sangram spent nine hours on a bus to reach India’s commercial and financial hub — a journey he makes twice a year.
The fighters come for quick money and cheering by a live audience. A fighter can make 10,000 to 20,000 Indian rupees ($200-$300) from a single bout, which sometimes lasts less than a minute. The average Indian monthly income is about 4,416 rupees, according to government data.
The evenings are organized by Prashant Kumar, a trained mixed martial arts fighter who runs an advertising firm and said he dreamed of bringing the concept to India ever since first seeing it in the United States a decade ago.
“The audience is increasing with every fight night as it’s a cheap mode of live entertainment for big spenders in this city,” Kumar said.
“People are getting bored of watching sports on television. They want to see and feel the pulse of it by being a few meters away from the action.”
Fight nights take place in hired studios in Mumbai otherwise used for Bollywood film shoots. The audience is invited mostly through word of mouth and social networking sites like Facebook.
The overall event usually lasts for 3 hours with around eight or nine matches in different weight categories. Every bout consists of three rounds of 10-12 minutes, and most end in knockouts.
Following each night is an after party. Kumar gives free entry with every fight night pass, along with two cans of beer.
“For me it’s money to party and also a ticket to become popular with the girls in college who like boys who fight,” said a young fighter who prefers anonymity since his parents have yet to find out he participates.
The audience consists of expats, young men and women working in multinational companies and sometimes even families — anybody able to fork out the 1,000 rupees ($20) for a ticket.
“I cannot believe I am watching this in Mumbai,” exclaims Anubhav, a 30-year-old banker.
“Next time I am going to bring 10 of my friends. This is amazing. This is pure action with real blood.”
Editing by Elaine Lies and Bob Tourtellotte