Fittingly for such a gym, the Crosstrain Fight Club in South Delhi is a basement room with nothing but thick, black mats on the floor and around the pillars, gloves and punching pads in one corner, two heavy bags. Hanging from the ceiling, and a small, neglected section with a barbell and some weights.
Anshul Jubilee is on the mat, dripping with sweat. It’s wrestling day at the gym, and he and his heavily muscled sparring partner are tearing it up, pulling each other fast, slamming them into the mat with a deafening thud.
Dubla, 28, from Uttarakhand is now India’s first mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter to bag a contract with the multi-billion dollar UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).
For anyone pursuing a career as an MMA fighter, a UFC contract is the holy grail. These matches are the most watched fights in the world, surpassed only by marquee boxing events. The UFC’s MMA championship is the only one in the world with a $300 million-a-year media deal.
Jubilee, who turned pro five years ago, says the best thing about his five-fight deal, signed for an undisclosed amount, is that it wipes out all his debts and ends his financial struggles.
“I lived on borrowed money for five years,” he says, relaxing in the back of his car after a heavy workout. “I asked friends and family to lend me money for training camp, then fight and earn and pay them back. I couldn’t afford anything.”
How did a man who started training in martial arts just eight years ago light such a pioneering path?
“It really started with street fighting,” says Jubilee. “I was one of those kids, you know, restless, with a lot of energy and not knowing what to do with it. I’ve been told that my people – Jubilee means ‘from Jubbal’, a town in Himachal – were warriors. My father was in the Border Security Force. .My uncles are in armed forces.I believe warrior blood flows from me.
Jubilee spent some of his childhood in a village called Bhatwari near Uttarkashi (the village was swept away by the 2013 floods). His grandfather lived here. Her father’s job meant growing up in different parts of India.
He says, ‘I was crazy about sports. “So, wherever we were, I picked up the popular game there. In Bengal, it was football. In Bihar, kabaddi; Kho Kho somewhere, volleyball somewhere else.”
In college, he was advised by friends and family to prepare for the armed forces. He was a good student, and his sportsmanship was beyond doubt. It was the perfect mix for the future officer. As part of his preparation, the young man began to focus more seriously on football.
He was 20 years old when he stumbled upon a hilarious video comparing footballers to MMA fighters: footballers clutching their legs and falling to the ground with one touch, MMA fighters with blood streaming down their faces.
“I didn’t know anything about MMA, but it fascinated me,” says Jubilee. He was in Dehradun at the time and went to a small fight gym. “I was proud of my fitness, but the first day’s workout made me want to lift. I was hooked!” He said.
Within a few months of her introduction to combat sports, a trainer at a gym realized that Jubilee had a gift for fighting and took her to an amateur MMA event in Delhi. Against a more experienced opponent, the rookie from Uttarakhand won.
“I don’t know how,” Jubilee says, her face still confused. “But I know I can’t describe the adrenaline rush of winning hand-to-hand combat. There’s nothing like it.”
He began studying various disciplines in this gruesome sport: boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu. He spent hours in the gym, working with a coach and sparring partner; Many hours at home, alone, watching videos and tutorials.
Jubilee says, “The physical work is not the hardest part, it is the mental work; A constant interest in learning, the ability to do that boring drill for hours and days until it becomes muscle memory. I have two big advantages. I’m naturally athletic, and I have a crazy interest in learning.”
Five years ago, Jubilee took the plunge to move to Delhi with borrowed money. He knew, as a newbie, it would be impossible to book a fight with a prestigious Indian pro-MMA league like Matrix Fight Night (MFN). So he won a fight at an event in the Philippines, to try and get some experience under his belt.
It turned out to be a nightmare. He borrowed “a lot of money” for the trip, only to have the police shut down the event just before Jubilee’s fight. He went to the organizer and demanded compensation. “They said, OK, go back to your hotel room,” Jubilee says. “Then they stopped taking my calls, then blocked me.”
Frustrated and confused, he thought of working through the bad feelings at a boxing gym in Manila. Except he was put in the ring with a skilled boxer who beat him to a pulp. Mouth cut and bleeding internally, head throbbing, Jubilee spent a foodless and sleepless night in her hotel.
He arrived at the airport to say that he had booked a flight that he could not travel because there was a transit stop in Malaysia and he did not have a visa for it. More desperate calls came for money, to rebook flights home.
“I was so hungry, so dehydrated, I sat at the airport and thought I was going to die,” says Jubilee.
After returning to Delhi, he went straight to the hospital and was admitted for a day. He decided to give up the fight. He called his sister Ayushi Jubilee saying he was coming home.
“You said you’d give it a year,” he reminded her, “and you’re only two months short. Why not stay?” He did. A few weeks later, he won an unexpected fight with one of MFN’s champion fighters, after the other fighter canceled at the last minute. Against all odds, Jubilee won.
He’s won every MFN fight he’s had (five in three years), earning a chance to fight in the Road to UFC event, a global competition that pits pro MMA champions from different countries against each other, to find the next batch. UFC fighters. He won all of his fights on that show, which led to his contract.
There is no deadline on the deal, but Jubilee is expecting his UFC debut and at least one more fight in the big leagues by the end of the year. Next month, he will start preparing for it with a camp in America or Thailand (Mecca for MMA fighters).
“I know myself. I know how fast I learn,” he says. “In four or five years, I see myself not only as India’s first UFC fighter, but also as India’s first UFC champion.”