The flight of Shaheen
The region of Quetta, Gilgit Baltistan and Hunza have given Pakistan a number of fighters, be it boxing champions like Mohammad Waseem or MMA fighters like Uloomi Karim Shaheen. The 25-year old Shaheen, who also hails from a small village of Hunza, Shimshal, says “People of Gilgit, Baltistan and Quetta region are hard working, they know that their only mode of survival is by working hard and they are sporty too.” Uloomi revealed that gyms and clubs in those areas honestly and religiously teach martial arts to children against a minimal fee of 200-300 per month. On the other hand, gyms of big cities like Islamabad charge heavy fees with wrong claims.
Uloomi Karim Shaheen did Kungfu and Chinese Kickboxing in his hometown, when he moved to Islamabad, he started training in Taekwondo in 2004 and got the black belt in 2007. He was then trained by his brothers, who also have got black belt in Taekwondo and have experience as amateur and professional fighters. He started Mixed Martial Arts training formally in 2008, but, his first international camp was in 2014 when he visited Thailand, he learned all sorts of martial arts there that are necessary for MMA fighting, which include American wrestling, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jujitsu and boxing. He visit Thailand or Philippines once every year to sharpen his skills.
Uloomi, who is also a student of computer science, did not get family support at start, “My family didn’t support initially, they of course wanted me to get education and become an engineer. But, gradually they saw me doing good in the sport and then I started fighting internationally and winning then they realized that I am actually serious about it and started supporting me completely.”
The fighter has a hectic daily schedule as he has to keep up with the studies along with intense daily training. He has classes from 8 AM to 5 PM and then he trains in the gym, owned by his brothers, till 11 PM, “My brothers have their own gym, so I train students and train myself as well. It includes weightlifting, techniques and everything. I have a tight schedule in weekdays, from 8 AM to till 11 PM, I have a tight schedule.” He runs on weekends for cardio conditioning and stamina as well.
Due to his hectic routine, he finds it tough to maintain a proper diet that is essential for athletes involved in such sports. Eventually, he heavily depends on supplements to meet the nutrition requirements. “An athlete has to have meals four to five times a day, but, due to the hectic schedule, it’s not possible. So, I take supplements to make sure that I don’t fall short in nutrition,” told Uloomi.
Uloomi never thought of pursuing career as an MMA fighter till he got in the university and got some opportunities to fight. He started Taekwondo training when he was in O’levels, afterwards he intensified it in the A’levels. But, he thought of pursuing it as a career when he fought bouts at university level, “Never really decided to pursue as a fighter, started training in O’levels then did more training in A’levels, afterwards, getting into the university I got opportunity to fight and then went with the flow.”
The fighter is now excelling in his career. His last fight against the Indian opponent, Yadwinder Singh, was the biggest fight of his career. But, it wasn’t significant for him just because it was against an Indian. It was his debut for the third biggest MMA platform in the world and he put up an impressive show. Uloomi told about the achievement “It was hyped by media that I defeated an ‘Indian’ fighter, but, at the end of the day, we both were martial artists, we both were sportsmen,” he added, “The reason of my happiness is that he was the top ranked fighter of India, he was much more experienced than me, he had the record of five wins with no losses and he was unbeaten in the last four years. There were no emotions before fight, I was really calm, I was not nervous that I am going to fight an ‘Indian’ fighter.”
Uloomi does not pay much of a heed towards the nationality or ethnicity of his opponent. The fighter, who formerly had a nick of Somchai, told, “I have many Indian friends and when I used to fight Thai kickboxing in Thailand, my Indian friends used to cheer for me with Pakistani flags in their hands, so I don’t have hatred for them”
However, Shaheen is happy with the response he got after the win, irrespective of the reason of it because it is beneficial for the sport in the country. It has created great awareness among Pakistanis about MMA. On the other hand, he feels that his friend and teammate, Ahmed Mujtaba did not get the deserved attention, who defended his title successfully on the same night. Mujtaba’s fight was much more significant than of Uloomi’s. However, Mujtaba is happy with the proceedings, “Ahmed Mujtaba defended his title , but, he couldn’t get the exposure he deserved, Just because I was fighting an Indian fighter, I caught the limelight. Apart from that, whatever happened, we accepted it, in fact Ahmed Mujtaba also accepted and said that as long as the sport is promoted in the country, we don’t mind.”
Despite of all their achievements, they are not getting any support at the government level or any support from multinational companies. He told, “We don’t have any sponsors in Pakistan, no multinational company is ready to sponsor us citing their financial problems.” When these fighters need sponsors, they head to Facebook and appeal for funds, common people, especially, students contribute in bits and pieces to raise the required sum.
The authorities are not playing their role. All these federations are registered with government, the funds are released for them, but, they never reach to the deserving athletes, all they get is a two time modest meal. All around the world, government take care of athletes and provide all the facilities, however, this is not the case with Pakistan. “If government caters them and support an MMA fighter or any other deserving athlete in one way or other, like in other countries. If government can take care of their training, their diet and other expanses, then we can again have a medal in Olympics,” as per Uloomi.
The current situation of sports in the country is embarrassing, none of the Pakistani athletes could qualify for the Olympics. There is a huge pool of talented fighters and boxers in Quetta and other regions, who have zero support. Unfortunately, to progress at a higher level, one needs a influential background, there is no merit in the country. Uloomi says, “Recently, in Olympics, our athletes got wildcard entry, which is shameful. We are standing last in everything.”
Furthermore, people, who brought glory to the country are not respected in Pakistan, “We are not producing any champions and who are champions, are working on streets or riding rickshaws, which is shameful”. Earlier, Mohammad Waseem was recognized as a talent by a Korean promoter and took him to Korea and then sent him to America for further training, today he is standing as a Champion boxer. Before him, it was Hussain Shah who was humiliated after his precious services for the country and now he is being utilized by Japan to train their young boxers. Similarly, Philippines have offered Uloomi Karim Shaheen and Ahmed Mujtaba the opportunity to come and fight for their country.
“Me and Ahmed Mujtaba got offer from Philippines. They sponsored us and offered nationality to fight for their country. It is shameful that our star boxers are being offered all the prime facilities by other countries to come and represent their country. We are wasting our talent, it is regretful that other countries are offering them their nationality,” said Shaheen. However, the two fighters did not accept their offer as their country comes first for them, they are happy with whatever they are getting, “Actually the issue is that we are a bit much too much patriots so we rejected the offer. We just cannot betray our country, it’s in our blood, otherwise, you wouldn’t be taking my interview, we wouldn’t have been here. And there would have been news everywhere that two Pakistanis changed their nationalities.”
Uloomi gives credit for his success to his friends, his nation and coaches for whatever he is today, “We (Uloomi and Mujtaba) are definitely in Pakistan, we have got good response and we are happy with what we are getting. We have been respected in the MMA fraternity, we have our parents and our nation’s prayers with us. Our coaches have worked so hard with us, other than that, no one else has helped us.”
The mixed martial artist has an upright attitude and he advises the youngsters of this country to step up and work for themselves. He quotes his own example that he had no guidance, no gym, but still, he worked extremely hard and now it is being paid off. “Our youth is habitual of complaining, this country didn’t give us anything and no one helped us, we don’t have anything,” he said, “They should try themselves and stop expecting that someone will hold their hand and get them out of troubles. Work hard, work smart, we had no one to work with, we had no gym and after eight years of sheer hard work, here we are making our name at international platforms,” he added. At the end, the one thing on which he emphasis on is to respect parents, they are one’s biggest strength.