Representing a nation is not easy, especially in a sport as capricious as mixed martial arts; one wrong move could spell the end of a career.
But for ONE Championship’s Gary Mangat, carrying the weight of India on his shoulders is an honor, and motivates him every time he steps into the unforgiving cage. Mangat exclusively spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about his ONE debut, being the pound-for-pound king in India, and the Toronto Raptors.
The best in a billion
In March, Gary “Saint Lion” Mangat (14-2) made his highly anticipated ONE Championship debut when he took on experienced finisher Toni Taura.
Nerves were not an issue for the Indian, who battered his opponent on the feet for the first five minutes before landing a takedown and finishing his opponent with ruthless ground and pound in the second round. It was the best the flyweight had ever looked, and he reflected on that life-changing performance to The Body Lock.
“I changed up a few things,” said Mangat, “I came out to Vegas. Vegas is just a different environment man – the heat, the training partners are a high level, the amount of workload you do, the coaching – [then] I went to Tiger Muay Thai to finish up so I could get acclimated. I also started working with a sports psychologist.”
He elaborated on how important getting acclimated is, and why it is such a big issue for him.
“A lot of guys I’m going to be facing [in ONE] are from Asia already, such as Indonesia [his opponent’s country]. [My opponent] is already acclimated, he’s already down there” the flyweight expressed. “My biggest issue is jetlag. Even my corner that comes with me, we have so much trouble just trying to wake up, [workout] and get our bodies adjusted. It’s tough, [but] if I can get out there a week early and still do a week of training, then by the time its fight week I will already have been acclimated.”
His ONE Championship debut marked the first time “Saint Lion” had competed in over a year, and even that was put in jeopardy just hours before the contest.
Mangat revealed that he was hospitalized a day before the bout due to food poisoning, but he elected to go into the fight on an empty stomach rather than withdraw from the fight, postponing his promotional debut.
“I was actually admitted to the hospital the night before the fight. It was really bad food poisoning; I wasn’t able to hold down anything. I was about to be pulled out the fight, but I told them, ‘Listen, I’m fine.’ I went in there with an empty stomach and still had the best performance of my life,” Mangat said.
“I give a big contribution to that to the training that I was doing not only inside the gym but outside; [all of] the recovery and mindset stuff I was doing, [and] altitude training.”
A rising star, Gary Mangat is originally from India, a country home to over a billion people. The nation makes up nearly 17% of the entire world’s population. So being promoted as ‘the best fighter from India’ – a title that he one hundred percent agrees with – is a source of great pride for Mangat.
“There isn’t another one [other Indian fighter] on my level. Whether you’re [a] lightweight, flyweight, heavyweight – it doesn’t matter. [Out of] any organization, I am the most decorated, I am the most exciting, [and] I am the best one out there.
“I take great pride in that because I started [with] no background in nothing, I didn’t come into this with anything. From having a dream of opening a fight on a local show like King of the Cage to now fighting in one of the biggest promotions.”
Gary Mangat returns to the cage on July 12 at ONE: Masters of Destiny, where he will be taking on Abro Fernandes, a deadly Indonesian with six finishes to his name.
He spoke about the tough test that awaits him in Fernandes, and how multiple opponents pulled out of the fight in the initial stages.
“I had other offers, but those fighters backed out, [so] then they brought me him,” Mangat stated. “It wasn’t so much the option of picking who I’d like to fight, it was more so when did I want to fight.”
“I don’t care who they put in front of me because I know millions of eyes will be watching.”
Glad to be a part of ONE
In June, the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA championship in the team’s history. It was an iconic moment in Canadian sports, with millions around the world celebrating the achievement. As he lives in Canada, Gary Mangat was one of those people, and he reflected on the historic win and celebrations.
“It was wild, man. Just the whole scene of being in Canada and stuff, it was crazy. I don’t think our country has come together since Canada won the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics. The Raptors aren’t just Toronto’s team, they’re Canada’s team.”
The buzz surrounding the Raptor’s win has helped Mangat through his training camp, and he was grateful to be apart of the moment.
He has his sights set on the ONE Championship flyweight title currently held by Adriano Moraes, a lethal Brazilian with nine submission wins to his name.
Although that is the goal, Mangat is not going to rush the process as he knows the opportunity will present itself in the future, but is firm on becoming the first MMA world champion from India.
“I’m really in no rush. I know the flyweight Grand Prix is going on, so they’ve got to figure it out amongst themselves first. Whoever wins that will face the flyweight champ, which I’m guessing will probably be [around] February.”
“I’m on the outside of the flyweight Grand Prix so I’m thinking I can probably get two more fights because there are some top contenders outside of the Grand Prix, and I think I’ll be able to slip my way in by the time that’s all done. Whoever is champion at the time will look to a contender who was never part of it, and I think I can be that guy. I hope I can make history and become the first ever Indian world champion in mixed martial arts.”
ONE Championship continues to expand its brand with every event; rumors of a potential show in the United States, United Kingdom and now India have spurred mass amounts of excitement throughout the organization’s fanbase. If true, Mangat and his nation’s talent will be on full display for the world to see, and that is a pressure that lies with the best out of a billion.
“There’s just been rumors here and there [of a ONE event in India], possibly 2020, but nothing has been set. Right now I think they’re trying to grow the Indian talent. I do believe a lot of it rides on me [as] they need somebody they can take who the people can embrace as their own,” said Mangat.
The mixed martial arts market in Asia has been an open playing field for decades, but that is quickly changing, with ONE Championship is filling the void. Due to this, Mangat believes that the UFC missed a huge opportunity by not investing in the Asian population, but is glad they never.
“They [UFC] missed an opportunity. They had the opportunity to get a billion people, and they missed [it]. ONE saw it. ONE is the perfect promotion for me because I don’t want to act a certain way; I don’t want to trash talk. They also live by the values. It’s a blessing it worked out the way it did.”
Mangat also revealed that he was losing interest in the sport until he received the long-awaited phone call from ONE.
“I enjoy fighting again. I was losing a lot of interest, but once I went to ONE and saw my first event in Japan, I fell in love with it again. I couldn’t wait to get out there again [and] I couldn’t wait to embrace the fans again. It’s because of ONE that I’ve fallen in love with this sport again.”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.