Mumbai: With martial arts gaining popularity around the world, entrepreneur Bill Dosanjh, who launched the Super Fight League (SFL), is set to enter a new ring – boxing.
The British-Indian entrepreneur is set to launch the Super Boxing League (SBL) in India along with pro-boxing star Amir Khan; the league is set to get underway later this year.
However, establishing a franchise-based boxing league is not the only thing that Dosanjh has in mind.
Deccan Chronicle caught-up with Dosanjh, who is in Dubai, over the phone. Here are some of the excerpts from the conversation we had with him.
Q: What motivated you to first get into MMA and now start a boxing league in India?
A: I manage probably the biggest Asian athlete, which is Amir Khan. I launched his career in Madison Square garden in 2010, and when we were training in America, we saw that boxing and MMA demanded the same viewership. Boxing has been around for centuries, but suddenly this sport (mixed martial arts) has come up, almost overtaking boxing in pay-per-view numbers.
So, I said, where is this coming from? What is the core behind the craze for this sport? So we looked into it and found out that every high school in America offers wrestling. So it is kind of built into the USA ecosystem, where a boxer has to step outside a school and find a boxing gym, while wrestling is offered on campus. So it’s kind of been breeding for years. And that’s why you see so much talent available because of this ecosystem.
I thought this could work really well in India, because India’s sport at the grassroots, other than cricket, is actually ‘kushti’. Every village has an ‘akhara’ in it. So I thought this sport really has the opportunity to grow in India.
In 2012, when we launched the Super Fight League in India, we became the second-most watched sport online (in India). Sixty per cent of the Indian population is youth and this sort of thing connects with them.
But I wanted to do something different from UFC. That’s why the whole team format came up. If you can build a loyal fan-following in soccer, cricket, or basketball, why can’t you build a following for your local fighting team?
Q: How do you plan on getting the fans involved in the Super Boxing League?
A: Your fans are your biggest assets. How do you connect with them?
Today, imagine you are a fan of a sporting franchise in sports, be it Manchester United, the Yankees, or the Lakers. Once you’ve watched a game in the stadium, what interaction have you got with your team?
You try to go back to the stadium after the game, the gates are closed. Your stars are closed, you try to get private coaching, but you cannot. You try to use a facility, you cannot.
Here, you become a fan, every team has a gym, which is the home base of that franchise. You can use the facilities and watch your stars train. And it’s a revenue model all year long for the franchise.
Every franchise will be taking the commitment of opening five gyms over the next five years. That’s 40 gyms. Then on the league level, I’m going to open 60 gyms over the next five years. So we’ve got a 100-gym forecast.
Q: In what manner will the athletes benefit from the SBL?
A: We want to give these athletes a platform to practice boxing on a regular level. And the one sport that India really does well in is boxing. I feel that when they come back from the Olympics, they don’t really have a platform for these guys to showcase their skills. They have government jobs, but that transition from an amateur boxer to a pro boxer is what we are going to give these athletes.
The Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) was banned six years ago. The facilities have been there since the commonwealth games. But what we haven’t been able to do is to build an ecosystem and commercialise it. There is a great talent pool of referees and judges out there and we will be employing them.
Q: You’ve been associated with boxing and MMA for some time now. In your experience, how difficult is it for an MMA athlete to switch to boxing or vice versa?
A: There are a lot of things that you need to learn in any martial art. Like, if you’re a boxer, you need to learn how to wrestle. And if you’re a wrestler, you need to learn how to box.
But, I think it (transition) can be done. Look, if one is dedicated to something, he can achieve it. When you’re an athlete, it’s not too difficult to learn the art you want to if you dedicate around 18 months to two years to it.
If we look at Conor McGregor, his timing is so perfect that it can very easily be done in boxing. And it is the same for Amir Khan, if he wanted to turn into an MMA fighter, because he has lightning speed. Before somebody could come at him, he could throw three-four-five combinations.
You’re going to see at the launch of the SBL on July 7 that a number of MMA fighters, who played in SFL, are actually participating in boxing. We’re going to answer these questions quicker than anyone can actually imagine.
Q: What do you think is required for Boxing to grow further in India?
A: Ecosystem. It’s all about the ecosystem. You need the young passionate billionaire owners like Aditya Munjal, who is the owner of Hero cycles. Same with Keshav Bansal, the young Intex owner, also the owner of the Gujarat Lions IPL team.
These are the young kids on the block who really understand the sport. They’re part of the ecosystem. This ecosystem was lacking in boxing and MMA. And that’s one reason why I’m trying to create an ecosystem here.
Q: MMA fighter Charmine Tweet had alleged in 2012 that she was not paid for taking part in the SFL. Do you think this could deter players from joining the boxing league?
A: Not at all. Every fighter got paid. You can speak to our athletes about how they are looked after and how they are treated. What you’re talking about was from four-five years ago. Every athlete gets paid. We’ve been in the business for over five years now and we make sure that athletes come first. Without athletes, you don’t have an organisation.
Q: What are your long term plans for the growth of both SFL and SBL?
A: We have a 21-country global expansion plan. Our plan is to expand to these 21 countries and to host the first world cup. Imagine India versus Pakistan. In the next five years, we expect a Super Fight League World Cup.
Imagine the Formula One. They are the only sport that travels to multiple countries with the F1 badge. The English Premier League is only relevant in England. IPL is only relevant pretty much in India.
But that Formula One badge goes to those 25 countries. If you look at the sport, it’s always the Formula One and then it’s about the individual team, the Ferraris, the McLarens, and others. Then it’s about the drivers. It’s the same thing here…it’s about the Super Fight League India, Super Fight League Americas, then it is about the teams, and then about the fighters.
So SFL will be the one brand in all these countries, which is very localised in all these markets....