Mixed martial arts (MMA) may not be the most popular sport in India at the moment, but it is certainly quick on the rise.
Stars like ONE Championship’s Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat and Arjan “Singh” Bhullar are among the names currently making headlines in the international sports community. Both come from a wrestling background and have made it big in MMA.
Now revered for their incredible fighting skills and technical mastery inside the cage, Phogat and Bhullar have inspired many Indians to follow in their footsteps.
Boxing is also a rather well-developed sport in India, with a lot of potential crossovers. The country enjoys a rich boxing tradition and history. While it’s certainly nothing but easy for predominant strikers to add a robust ground game to their repertoires, it can be done, and there are a lot of solid names who could very well make the jump from the ring to the cage.
Throughout Indian boxing history, there have been many solid fighters who would have made great MMA fighters. Some of them still have the chance to. But let’s take a look at a few big names in Indian boxing who would have been great MMA fighters.
1) Vijender Singh
When it comes to Indian boxers who have great potential in transitioning to MMA, WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight Champion Vijender Singh Beniwal is definitely the top pick.
Beniwal was awarded one of the highest civilian awards for distinguished contributors to Indian society, the Padma Shri, and the highest sporting honor, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, for his outstanding contribution to Indian sports. Before entering the world of professional boxing, he took home bronze medals in the Asian Games 2006 and Beijing Olympics 2008.
2) MC Mary Kom
Another crowd favorite is M C Mary Kom, who is currently one of the only female boxers whose performances in the ring have amazed the world. An inspirational woman of many firsts, she was the first Indian woman to qualify for the Summer Olympics, winning bronze in 2012, and in 2014, the first Indian boxer to win gold in the Asian Games.
A biography was released in 2014 in honor of one of the greatest symbols of women empowerment, where the titular character Mary Kom was played by Bollywood superstar actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
3) Akhil Kumar
Akhil Kumar employs an ‘open guarded’ boxing technique which earned him a notorious reputation as a knockout artist. His international accomplishments earned him the Arjuna Award for Outstanding Performance in Sports and Games in 2005. A year later, he won gold at the Commonwealth Games, and a few years after that, bronze at the 2008 AIBA World Cup.
4) Jitender Kumar
Flyweight boxer Jitender Kumar also makes the list of professional Indian pugilists we’d love to see inside the cage. The world came to know of his incredible skills as he represented India in the 2006 Commonwealth Games and brought home a bronze medal.
He went to prove his prowess once again in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately, he failed to overpower the Russian opponent Georgy Balakshin in the quarterfinals.
5) Mohammed Ali Qamar
Another ring star that makes the cut is one who was introduced to the sport at an early age. Mohammed Ali Qamar began his career in the World Amateur Boxing Championship in 1999, and in 2002, he represented the country at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
He became the first ever Indian boxer to bring home gold, and he was given the Arjuna Award for this historic accomplishment.
Qamar was touted for great things, but unfortunately, a persistent injury ended his short-lived boxing career.
6) Vikas Krishan Yadav
Vikas Krishan Yadav doesn’t settle for simple wins—he overpowers and absolutely dominates his opponents. The lightweight boxer brought home bronze from the Youth Olympics in 2010, gold from the Asian Games in the same year, and another gold several years later, in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Yadav is the only Indian athlete to qualify for three Olympic games after Olympic bronze medalist Vijender Singh, earning him a spot on this list.
7) Devendro Singh
Light flyweight contender Devendro Singh surprised even his coaches when reached the 2011 World Amateur Boxing Championship quarter-finals, especially after finding out that he qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, where he also got to the quarter-finals.
Prior to these achievements, his performance was described as mundane. He would, however, prove that he was far from mundane by winning the silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and once again qualifying for the Olympics in 2016.
8) Shiva Thapa
Historically the youngest Indian boxer to qualify for the Olympics, Shiva Thapa represented India at the 2012 London Olympics. He is the third Indian athlete to take home the gold from the Asian Games and the third Indian pugilist to win a medal from the AIBA World Boxing Championships.
Recognized as one of the world’s best bantamweight boxers, Shiva Thapa placed third at the AIBA Men’s World Ranking.
9) Hawa Singh
Hawa Singh is an Honorary Captain of the Indian Army who claimed the title of Western Command Champion after out-punching the defending champion, Mohabbat Singh. The Indian Heavyweight dominated amateur boxing in India and Asia for a decade, winning the National Championships 11 times in a row, and becoming the only Indian to consecutively win gold at the 1966 and 1970 Asia Games.
Co-founding the Bhiwani Boxing Club that produced the Olympic medalist Vijender Singh, he received the Dronacharya Award for Outstanding Coaches in Sports and Games, but unfortunately died 15 days before the date.
10) Pradeep Singh Sihag
Lastly, the boxing veteran Pradeep Singh Sihag belongs on this tally. Son to a former National Middleweight Wrestling Champion and brother to a former National Middleweight Amateur Boxing Champion, he had grown up in the sport and naturally excelled as he pursued a career in it.
After 120 wins and 3 losses in amateur boxing, he went on to win 18 matches as a professional. During his professional career, he claimed the title of middleweight champion in the World Boxing Council Asian, Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation, IPBO, and Pan Asian Boxing Association.