Bashir Ahmad – Mentoring the future of MMA
Known as the godfather of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in Pakistan, Bashir Ahmad took it up as a hobby that quickly turned into an obsession. His family shifted to the United States when he was around 3 years old because his father went to study there. However, he started his career there after completing his studies and hence, the family settled there. Just like many other expats, they used to visit Pakistan regularly, instilling in the kids the cultural roots. Bashir developed an attachment with the home country at a young age and always knew that he would end up doing something for Pakistan, even though it wasn’t clear as to how he would be doing that.
He completed his undergrad in Global Affairs from George Mason University with a magna cum laude and decided to join the military where he served from 2001 to 2008. It was during his service, around 2005, that he started reading about MMA and developed an interest which led him to take it up as a hobby and as they say the rest is history. After completing his military service, he enrolled for his Master’s degree in Exercise Sciences at the California University of Pennsylvania.
Two years into his training he decided that he needed to take part in a full contact fight, to test his skill set and improve on it; despite having armature bouts. It was during this period that One Championship picked him up while he was living in Pakistan, getting him his first real competition on Asia’s biggest MMA platform.
Talking about how his family took his decision to adopt MMA as a profession, Bashir shared;
“For my immediate family, I was always a bit of a black sheep, always had a different approach to things so they were not surprised that I took up something that was a bit unusual for a desi family. However, they were concerned that I was coming to Pakistan to promote MMA and to them it was a waste of time as no one could have thought at that point that someone promoting MMA could make a career out of it. As for the distant family, many don’t really understand the scope and impact of what I am doing so in their books I am that poor chap who ruined his life!”
For Bashir, MMA is something that requires discipline and tolerance for a tough lifestyle; characteristics that help an individual in other aspects of life as well. For him personally, someone who had issues during his high school days to the extent that it was predicted he would end up in jail, the discipline helped him turn his academic and professional life around.
“In hindsight, it is difficult to call anything a setback as you always learn something from it and it takes you to another direction even when at that point they were considered a setback, so I don’t have any regrets.”
When he came to Pakistan, his initial time was not quite welcoming with reference to MMA. He had to face a lot of resistance from the local athletes. Despite not having to support a family at that time, he had to undergo a very bad financial patch. A time period that Bashir defines as something he enjoyed and misses.
Talking about setbacks in his fighting career, he shared that a low point was when he lost two consecutive fights. The second of his he was considered the favorite but was knocked out in twenty seconds. It was a phase that would crush anybody, but Bashir used it as motivation and rebounded by winning his next fight.
“When I won my first MMA fight. If you want to signal out a specific moment it would be at the end of the first round. Check out the video and my expressions will say it all.”
Sharing his take on the impact of his work, he says that he considers the current status as the seed and that real impact will be visible down the road especially through his Shaheen gym where MMA is being used as a vehicle for self-development for kids who don’t have many role models of access to good education. The gym is a platform for the under privileged youth to shine. In addition to being a teacher and mentor, Bashir brings eyeballs to the country’s diversity and potential, something that is not highlighted often enough. Something he hopes to continue doing through this sport.
As mentioned that MMA was a hobby turned profession. So what was it that he wanted to be? For the longest period Bashir wanted to be a zoologist!
So even though Bashir didn’t pick up his tranquilizer gun, someone who has always had a sensitive side towards environment and wildlife when WWF-Pakistan asked him to join them as a Goodwill Ambassador, he didn’t think twice. He considers it an accomplishment at par with being the first Pakistani MMA athlete to be recognized internationally.
Currently, he is spearheading a campaign with the organization for Vultures conservation, titled ‘Protecting the environment’s unsung heroes`, something that we will see him talk about and work on going forward. Other than that, he hopes to inculcate among the MMA community and his fans a sense that conservation is a civic duty.
Someone who gave up a good part of his youth to promote the sport and establish the facilities in Pakistan, instead of personally training and getting more fights, Bashir refuses to ask for handouts. He is of the opinion that the private sector and civil society needs to come forward and support and invest in MMA and sports in general. As for the government, given the issues Pakistan faces, they should invest their resources in protecting our forests, in solar energy etc. All he wants from them is help in visas, allowing venues and giving security.
Recently he joined the management of ONE Championship — Asia’s biggest MMA promotion. He becomes the first ONE Championship fighter to be promoted to management role. He will continue fighting and will now double as the promotion’s Senior Manager of Industry Partnerships.
Here’s hoping that people will learn from Bashir’s example and invest in their profession and the country with a futuristic approach.
Interview & Written by Fatima Arif
Images courtesy: Bashir Ahmad Offical FB Page and WWF Pakistan