Sanjeev Sharma trains twice a day, six days a week, to fight people. If you were his little sister, you might brag that your brother could nail any punk with a show of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, kickboxing, karate, judo, wrestling, grappling and striking — but Sharma would only smile and tell you that’s not what it’s for.
It was a lesson he learned himself — the “humbling nature” of Mixed Martial Arts — but Sharma’s drive hasn’t just lead him from his rebellious 17-year-old adolescence to being a skilled 23-year-old amateur fighter in the world of MMA: it’s also helped him work through the grief of losing a parent.
Sharma is the son of Ramesh Sharma, a taxi driver who died this past July when an 82-year-old woman lost control of her car and plowed into a picnic table outside the Victoria airport. Three months later, police have not released more information about the cause of the accident, but the family has been forced to move forward, with young Sharma now leading the charge.
“My dad was always so supportive of my fighting in MMA once he took the time to see me fight and understand it. He paid my way, didn’t want me to work and told me to focus on school and my passion,” says Sharma, who now balances university, MMA and driving his dad’s taxi. “My mom was not happy about it, but she understands now. She’s going to come to her first fight.”
On Saturday, Nov. 5, Sharma will be competing in the Armageddon Fighting Championship (AFC 7) at Bear Mountain Arena. While this marks the seventh season for the Victoria-based event, it also marks the first big-name match for Sharma — fighting alongside pros and other amateurs in one of the most popular local fighting events the Island sees each year. This year, pro names include undefeated AFC’er Derek Medler (6-0), versus Brian Grimshaw (6-1), and Nick Hinchliffe (18-8) versus Russia’s Andrey Koreshkov (6-0). On the amateur side, Sharma will take on Dustin Porter of Comox.
Keith Nadasen, game commentator and general manager of Island MMA where Sharma trains, has known Sharma since the day the gym opened. In that time, he’s seen Sharma go from a rebellious teen to a honed fighter. He’s also seen the impact Sharma’s grief has had on his life.
“Sanjeev’s parents never wanted him to fight at first, but they trusted me and [trainer] Jason [Heit] to keep him safe,” says Nadasen. “For me, I just keep seeing his dad’s face, shaking my hand, and then he was gone a week later. Through all of it, Sanjeev has never fought angry — just more focused.”
Nadasen and AFC’s Executive Producer Heit have built Sharma’s training slowly, so he doesn’t “peak too quickly,” says Nadasen, which can be common among young fighters. Time is also an issue. Because Sharma is now completing his degree at UVic in science and economics and is working the taxi seven days a week, he plans to stay in amateur status until he graduates and can dedicate more time to the sport.
“Even before the accident, I’ve seen Sanjeev’s attitude and his life take on a different shape,” says Nadasen. “When you get excited and angry, that completely drains you in a confrontation … Sanjeev is a real safe fighter. He’s defensive and quiet, but he knows what he’s doing.”
That change is one that Sharma echoes. While he used to think of MMA as a way to release aggression, he now sees it as a focusing mechanism. Striking is still his favourite technique of all the MMA components, but he says now it’s more about the art of how the body responds.
“If that’s the reason you join — to think you can fight people — I’d tell you, join. You’re going to find out really quickly there’s no point. MMA really humbles you,” he says. “You think you’re tough, but there are always people who are tougher than you, and to give those shots, you have to get a lot of shots.”
For people who are interested in getting involved in MMA but aren’t sure they have what it takes, Sharma says you never know what’s in you until you try — often, you can surprise yourself. In the end, he says you’ll always walk away with more than you came in with.
“The hardest thing is showing up to class with black eyes and bruises, and people think ‘Oh, someone’s been out making trouble,’ but, really, it’s just practice,” says Sharma. “If you’re not getting hurt, you’re not training hard enough.”
Sharma has fought in five minor events before, and lost only his first time due to the anticipation and nerves, he says. Now, he’s excited to take on a deeper challenge. Most of his hard training has been completed for the upcoming fight — training that looks like intense cardio sprints and circuits three days a week, mixed with three days of weights and one-on-one fighting. If anything, he says his grief has helped his focus.
“When my mind is set on MMA, I can stay focused and kind of escape from everything else for a while,” says Sharma. “There’s no point just sitting around and thinking about Dad, so I wanted to take that energy and do something with it.”
Sharma says the impact of his dad’s loss has been hard on his mother, who knew her husband since they were each nine years old. His sisters, one 17 and in Grade 12 in Victoria, and one 24 in Calgary, have also struggled. Before, only his dad and little sister would come to every fight. Now, the whole family has rallied behind Sharma, though he’s concerned he may be more nervous with his mom present.
“I learned from my dad that you need to work hard to get what you want, and I do work hard,” he says. “MMA has changed my life mentally and physically, but it keeps me straight and always gives me goals to work toward ... My dad was always proud of me.” M
AFC 7Check out the showdown on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Bear Mountain Arena (1767 Island Hwy, Colwood). Tickets from $30 to $120 at armageddonfc.com or 250-478-8384. Doors at 6pm, fight at 7pm.