Not many Indians might be familiar with mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Sascha Nitin Sharma, but the fans of the combat sport, who are keenly following the present season of 'The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): Team McGregor vs Team Faber', will know the 28-year-old lightweight fighter well.
Sascha, who hails from Germany, but has Indian roots -- born to an Indian father and a German mother -- started out with playing video games and then doing skateboarding, before becoming a frontman in his school band.
So what was it that drafted him from his normal life to combat sports? Sharma, who is a part of Team Conor McGregor -- UFC interim Featherweight Champion -- in the 22nd edition of TUF, the UFC-produced reality TV series, says: "It was 2008 when I got in touch with boxing. I saw Arthur Abraham [defending WBO Super Middleweight Champion] fighting for the world title with a broken jaw, it inspired me. I wanted to do the same."
Sharma defeated Sean Carter via unanimous decision (UD) to make it to the TUF, before getting drafted by McGregor to be a part of his team. The boxer, who fell in love with BJJ as time passed on, however suffered an UD loss against Chris Gruetzemacher in his first fight inside the house.
However, that doesn't stop the German fighter, who received a "shirt, an apple, and a granola bar" in his first MMA fight, from becoming a winner and be "the first Sharma to make it to the UFC".
Excerpts from his exclusive interview with IBTimes India:
How's the feeling of being the first MMA fighter having Indian roots, to make it to TUF?
I feel blessed and honoured. India has such a big heritage and I am proud to have the name Sascha Nitin Sharma. There are so many people in the world, which think of us in a stereotypical way just as cricket players or Bollywood dancers, but I know, that there are many sleeping talents in India.
Look at Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt or Vijender Singh. I want the people to know, that there is a fighting spirit in India. We have the oldest martial arts Kalaripayattu, we have Kushti. When I was in the show I immediately asked for an Indian flag.
I wanted people to know, that I have not forgotten, where half of my blood comes from. We had two Swedish guys with Assyrian and Arameic roots and they were also proud to represent the country of their parents. I respect my father a lot and I am proud to wave the flag of my father in the competition.
You're a rising star already. Do you have any plans for India?
Just this morning I saw a report of Sushil and Vijender visiting a military base in India, and it made me remember of my time in the country. I have visited it several times and I love it. I would love to train with and visit Sushil and Vijender, because I think I could learn so much from them. Also, I see the pictures of my relatives on Facebook everyday. I miss them. I am going to visit them again soon. I hope I could do it along with the visit of an MMA Show.
If the UFC is going to India any time soon, I will do my best to get there too. And I saw my SFL [Super Fight League] colleagues are doing well in Bollywood. I always had a weakness for movies and the movie industry. I would love to take part in an Indian movie. I think that this would fit me very well, at least I think it will be fun and an unforgettable experience.
Are you aware of the Indian MMA scene?
I have seen some of the work that they are doing. I think Daniel Isaac and the SFL are doing a good job over there.
What ideas can you bring to modify or change and better the scenario?
In India the people are more open to MMA, not like in Germany. In Germany a lot of bad work has been done so the sport does not have a good reputation. When I was in India in 2013 to fight at the SFL, everything was so professional. I loved it. I wish I could have fought more for this organisation, because they brought international fighters to fight in India. Also there is some good talent in India.
Who, according to you, are some of the rising Indian stars in the MMA scene?
Rajinder Singh Meena, Abdul Muneer, Bharat Kandare. Promotions should give them a chance, they are MMA enthusiasts and good sportsmen. If Sushil or Yogeshwar are going to switch to MMA, the scene would have two top stars right away. If you look at them from an athletic perspective, they have everything.
Give a glimpse of your regular day-to-day training regime, and also tell us how an average person can be combat ready? Personally, what do you recommend for him/her.
On what we have seen so far on the episodes [of TUF], we did a light training session in the morning. Doing stuff we want, pad works, wrestling techniques or some Jiu Jitsu Drills. In the evening, Conor shows us his preferred techniques. But for beginners this is too technical.
I would recommend, if you want to start MMA, then do the regular training, but also train one of the basic disciplines (i.e.Wrestling, Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ or Judo) which you like the most. I do all of these disciplines additionally to my MMA training. So if you like takedowns, go wrestling, if you like kicking, go to Muay Thai, if you like groundwork, then go to BJJ.
I am a personal trainer and I also train teenagers and I always saw, that the people made better progress, when they did this extra training. You will get a deeper understanding of the basics of the sport. Because in MMA Training, there is sometimes no time to show you how to do a jab or how to do a double leg [takedown].
Finally, a message to the MMA fans and enthusiasts as well as aspiring fighters, especially in India.
I want to say hello to all my family and friends in India, I thank you for your support and I am working hard on myself to make you proud. I will come back to you soon :)
India is big country with a rich history in martial arts, let's show the world, that we have not forgotten our heritage and the we can produce good fighters. Look at what Sushil, Yogeshwar and Vijender did. I will do my best so India can be proud of me.
Bharat mata ki Jai!