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Redemption inside the cage: A fighter’s tale of combat and hardship

By Haichikambe Pame Updated: Aug 03, 2018 10:44 pm
Kekhrieneitso Angami, on the right, during one of his fights.

Dimapur, Aug. 3 (EMN): Though widely popular across the globe, the combat sport, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has taken some time to make its presence felt in Nagaland. ‘Combat’ is very much in the Naga nature and we even have an indigenous sport of this ilk – the traditional Naga wrestling. Even as the MMA is still at a nascent stage in Nagaland, given the Nagas’ craze for such sport the state might get to witness its own son squaring off against the best in the world.

One person who had recently marked his name in the national arena is the new All India Mixed Martial Arts champion, Kekhrieneitso Angami, known among his friends as simply Neitso. He is presently pursuing Bachelor of Arts at Dimapur Government College, at the same time undergoing MMA training at The Combat Academy in Dimapur. His goal is to become a professional MMA fighter; to represent Nagaland and India at the international stage.

“With God’s grace, I know I will,” Neitso asserted during an interview with Eastern Mirror. According to him it was his late father who inspired him to become a fighter. Though quite an athlete in his youth, Neitso was bullied as a kid in school. As a result he developed low self-esteem and self-belief, he shared. He was ‘chided for his appearance and dressing’ and no one wanted to befriend him. He said he would often seek the company of non-Nagas.

Neitso’s father passed away when he was only 14 year old. Not long after, Neitso said, he discovered something would change his life; he found his self and his true purpose in MMA. To chase the dream he started off by taking taekwondo classes which he practised and competed in for three years. “After taking up martial art, I found discipline, self-esteem, self-belief, and my identity. My life drastically improved, from family to friends to academics.”

The changed was manifested when Neitso was crowned the Mr. Fresher of Dimapur Government College in 2016. Again, he was crowned Mr. Personality at the state inter-college competition Zoomax the same year.

Neitso’s will and determination to realise his dream led him to The Combat Academy located at 4th Mile in Dimapur, where he is training till date. He said that it takes him more than an hour to reach the academy by foot every day. “I go through all the intense training, sometimes it becomes hard and I find myself crying often in the bathroom but still I continue to do it because I know it is what I love and it’s worth it,” Neitso said.

He took the first step as an MMA fighter participating at the All India Mixed Martial Arts Federation (AIMMAF) nationals held at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi in July, 2018. Neitso emerged champion in lightweight category and was also awarded with the best submission title for his standing guillotine and was adjudged the best fighter of the event.

Neitso humbly attributed his success to God. “One doesn’t need to become a theologian to praise God. We can be a living example of the glory and grace of God and can glorify His name through any profession.”

But acknowledgments have been in short supply. “I do not anticipate or expect any from the govt. for as far as I know, MMA is not recognised as a sport by the govt. and since it is not an Olympic sport it has its own separate avenues,” Neitso replied when queried if the govt. has extended support/help. However, Neitso admitted that it will mean a lot if the state govt. could acknowledge the sport in any way.

“I am very happy that this sport has been introduced in our state. There are talented prospects coming out among the Nagas. Nagas have the blood of our ancestors who were true warriors during their era, and I feel this blood of warriors is still alive in each one of us. This I can see in all the Naga fighters. I believe from my very heart and soul that Nagas have what it takes to excel in this sport provided with the right guidance and training, and of course hard work and will to be the best,” he said.

With gym fully dedicated to combat sports, Khriemelie Metha was instrumental in opening The Combat Academy in 2014. Metha himself represented India’s leading MMA team – Team Relentless, in Malaysia at the Ultimate Beatdown tournament. With his training from Mumbai, Thailand, and Singapore, he has the proud record of not losing a single amateur fight.

According to Metha it was already an impressive feat that Neitso won all his bouts and eventually emerged champion in 2018 AIMMAF (All India Mixed Martial Arts Federation) nationals held in New Delhi. “But to do it in his first ever experience inside a cage as an amateur mixed martial artist was doubly so, add to that getting the best fighter and best submission award,” Metha said in an email to Eastern Mirror.

“Does Neitso have the potential to excel? His achievement already highlights that he does,” Metha stated. On Nagas being naturally gifted, Metha affirmed that it’s just a matter of honing skills. Discussing Neitso, the coach mentioned that the former’s lean body structure was an added bonus. “He’s taller than most of the fighters with the same weight and has longer limbs, which in fight sense means he can hit someone when that person can’t reach him back.”

According to Metha, hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard. What happens when talent and hard work meet? The coach opined that it is something Neitso can answer in the next few years. For Neitso, the academy has become a second home and he was grateful that his coaches and teammates understand and support him. “I consider each one of them as my mentors and brothers.”


By Haichikambe Pame Updated: Aug 03, 2018 10:44:44 pm