Shillong’s MMA fighter Raymond Kurbah fights against all odds to try and make it to the top


Raymond Johny Kurbah, a young Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Shillong recently gained popularity in the state as he competed at the All Africa Mixed Martial Arts Championships which was recently held in Johannesburg, South Africa. He reached the quarter finals where he lost to the hosts after a three round fight which ended in a split decision in favour of the South African. In a region where there is little interest in MMA, he has overcome personal and professional hardships to try to make something of himself in the sport.

He started martial arts at the young age of 5 and with multiple medals from different national events and black belts in Karate and Wushu, he knew where his calling was, the next step being Mixed Martial Arts. The youngest of three siblings to a single mother who works as a cleaner, he has had to work hard for every single thing he has. Although his family are supportive of his dream, they are worried that the future he has picked for himself will not reap fruits to support a livelihood for himself. Raymond is determined to make it to the top and although he has no coach or any training facilities, he still attends every national event he can to get an invite to the bigger sporting events around the world. Multiple gold medals at the national level has done him little good however, as the mechanisms put in place to help him grow as an athlete have not helped him. It could be that MMA does not have a place in the sports scene especially in the Northeast region and the tragedy of it all is that talent goes unrecognized and unappreciated.

Since he cannot afford proper training, he trains by himself in the forest. A resident of Malki, Shillong, the nearby woods is his training ground where he rigorously trains every single day without fail. Having no sponsors, he has to work odd jobs to pay his way to the try outs where he usually wins. This is despite having to live in make shift places and sometimes even camping out at the venues itself. When asked if it is worth it, he says,"It is my passion and my dream and I cannot give up on something I feel so strongly about. The rest I leave to God. I work hard and I hope that one day my hard work will pay off."

From training by himself in a forest to becoming an accomplished MMA fighter, Raymond Johny Kurbah has made the nation proud

Not wanting to burden his mother with the finances, he tries to help out in every single aspect. He is a student of St. Anthony's College in Shillong which he got through the sports quota and his teachers at the college are very supportive of him. Even though he has done everything right and has worked so hard, he finds little help when he needs it most. He has been called to compete in Vegas twice but both times due to financial constraints and visa problems, he could not go. This time however, because of a few benefactors, he was able to raise part of the funds to take him to South Africa. The rest he had to borrow and he is slowly but surely paying his debt off. His story is heart wrenching and he shows so much maturity. Even with his dire circumstances, he still does his part to try and help society in whatever small way he can. Many young children who are interested in martial arts train with him but because most of them are too poor to pay anything, he teaches them free of cost.

Raymond is a part of All India Mixed Martial Arts Association (AIMMAA) and has feels greatly indebted to them for helping him as much as they have and he hopes that he can keep furthering his journey. Talking about the future, Raymond wants to start self-defense classes for women as he speaks on how the number of growing rape and assault cases in the state is nothing short of worrisome. Even though he is very brave to follow his dreams, there is a hint of frustration and desperation over the state of affairs. He tries to remain optimistic but sometimes feels maybe it is impossible to make it in the sport and it is not because he doesn't have the talent and the drive because even without a proper coach, he goes out there and gets results. The next fight he has is in the Czech Republic in November but he doubts he will be able to raise the money to get there. He will try to approach sponsors again and hopes that there will be people willing to invest in him.

It's a hard life for him, he trains and tries his best even with his circumstances but without being to afford a proper diet, this takes a toll on him both physically and mentally. He has a simple outlook on life and tries his best to be a good son, brother and athlete. He talks about how he doesn't respond to jibes at him which are common phenomena in the sport but just remains focused and do what he does best–FIGHT. Martial Arts is yet to find recognition in the country and it is athletes like Raymond who suffer due to this lapse. He's a dedicated and gifted fighter but due to proper mechanisms not put in place, athletes like him fall through the cracks.

Interviewed by Jessica Passah for TNT-The Northeast Today

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