KARACHI: Bashir Ahmed, who is known as the godfather of mixed martial arts (MMA) in Pakistan, wants the sport to flourish in his home country.
A professional mixed martial artist himself, Bashir thinks Pakistan has the potential that is required to excel in the sport. “When we see Pakistanis competing at regional level, they are much better that their competitors,” he says.
Bashir, born in Faisalabad in 1982, grew up in the United States of America. Not many people know, but one of the most unique experiences the mixed martial artist had was when he went to the Iraq war with the US army.
“Going to Iraq was a unique experience, especially when I come to think of it now. It was all very much controversial as people thought it was the West against Islam. It was surprising even for the locals when they saw a Muslim in US military robes,” recalls Bashir.
The Iraq war played a significant role in Bashir realising his passion for MMA.
“I used to look up stuff on MMA and teach myself. I found it very interesting. So when I came back I decided to open up a gym,” he says.
Martial arts a domestic sport
For Bashir, returning to Pakistan was something he always looked forward to. “I always thought of returning to Pakistan. There was some sort of connection which I cannot really explain,” he says.
The 34-year-old mixed martial artist established a training gym in Lahore to train locals and played his part in his aim to expand the sport. According to him, people are beginning to show interest in the game, some to get fit, while others to pursue it as a profession.
“It has started to gain popularity over the past few years and I am seeing it becoming a domestic sport very soon,” Bashir says.
Bashir believes that since the government has failed to provide basic necessities to the people of this country, how can one expect them to have even basic investments in sports.
“Let’s say if the government awards Rs30 million to an athlete. I would say if the same money was spent on education, many lives would change,” Bashir says.
“The country’s private sector need to step up. Everywhere in the world it is the private sector that helps make different sport and athletes grow,” he adds.
Bashir says role of media in giving coverage to lesser known sport is of key importance. “When media shows its interest in something, private sector jumps in too.”
Shocking Trump win
In an interview to CNN earlier in February this year, Bashir was appalled by the cult of US president-elect Donald Trump and said that he could never imagine him sit in the Oval Office.
“When I hear somebody like Trump, it’s like a comedy. It’s frightening that he has taken control of the American mob – that’s what his whole campaign is based on. It was like, ‘Who hates Muslims more?’” Bashir told CNN.
Today, nine months later, Trump has actually won the US elections and Bashir was “shocked to the core”.
“The days after Trump won it was like 9/11. No one was talking to each other, everybody was just looking down. The vibe in the air was very depressing,” he recalls.
But he tried to look on the positive aspects and thought the reality might not be as bad as most of the Muslims in the US are expecting it to be.
“Now that he is president I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as I originally thought but it could be worse. But then again he could be a great president… we don’t know, this guy is so unpredictable,” he says.
Bashir says Trump took advantage of what he referred to as ‘American mob’.
“He took advantage of people’s sentiments and feelings. Yes, America has a racist past and there are a lot of racist elements in America and instead of driving people towards more positive way, he took those negative elements and he used that to bolster himself,” he says.