Martial arts of all kinds are among the most popular forms of sports and entertainment in Afghanistan.
It’s no surprise then to note that MMA is also rapidly on the rise! That said, in this article, we take a look at some of the best martial arts fighters from Afghanistan!
5. Rohullah Nikpai
One of the most revered Afghan fighters, Rohullah NikpaI is an Afghan Taekwondo specialist and two time Olympic bronze medallist, with a story that gives you goose bumps of how he carried forward his dream of raising the profile for Afghanistan across the continents. Nikpa, born June 15th, 1987 in Wardak, Afghanistan, started his training in Kabul, Afghanistan at the age of 10.
During the civil war over the capital city, his family settled in one of Iran’s many Afghan refugee camps.
Watching martial arts movies ignited a spark in his life to replicate those same moves performed by the timeless legend, Bruce Lee.
Even though the desirability of owning an Afghan passport ranks last in the world at 199 below even that of Syria, Iraq and Yemen, it severely impacts the careers of those athletes and mixed martial artists yearning to compete at the international level. Many don’t have the needed sponsorship to get enough funds even to travel.
He was 14, when the Taliban regime fell at the end of 2001, he began to train amid the outbreak of a bloody turmoil of war between NATO and the Afghan Jihadists.
“I was so happy because throughout the history of my country Afghanistan, no one has ever won an Olympic medal before. I was so happy that I cried right there in the arena,” he said.
He has accomplished something priceless for his country which very few could have ever done and it must have seemed totally surreal.
His message to his fellow countrymen is infused with a feeling of pity and love; “Our people must walk away from all this war and conflict and look forwards, towards the future generation and we can use sports to help lift our country up”
4. Nesar Ahmad Bahawi
Another Afghani Taekwondo stylist, he was the flag bearer for Afghanistan in Beijing and the 2012 London Olympics. In the 2006 Asian Games, Nesar won the silver medal in the Lightweight category at the 2007 world Taekwondo Championships, edging out 2004 Olympic Champion Hadi Saei in the semi-finals.
He said, “The Olympic logo with its five rings shows that the world is unified. Yes, so the sport of taekwondo can show the world that we are asking for peace and we don’t war, we want to live as one with the rest of the world.”
Thanks to Nikpa and Bahawi, Taekwondo became one of the most popular sports in Afghanistan with the number of martial arts competitors increasing daily. In 2012 there were about 38,000 competitors according to Bahawi, who practised in hundreds of clubs around the country with very minimal, low-quality facilities set up by the government for the athletes.
3. Meena Asadi
Defying odds, Meena Asadi showed great valour and courage to pursue her dream of becoming an Afghanistan Karate Champion.
Being a female athlete in Afghanistan however comes with its challenges, living under the conservative, ultra-orthodox Taliban regime who have denied women even the right to leave their homes. She currently stays in Indonesia.
At the age of just 12, she fled her worn torn country to live in Pakistan. She came back to Kabul and started to train in Karate going on to represent Afghanistan in the 2010 South Asian Games.
She is the only female athlete that’s won two silver medals while representing Afghanistan at the 2012 South Asian Karate Championship. She has also been a member of Afghanistan’s National Karate Federation.
Being extremely sceptical of the future of women and girls in her country since the Taliban came to power, Meena Asadi founded Cisarua Refugee Karate Club in Indonesia.
“All the achievements and values are destroyed, and this would be a dark moment for the people, especially for women and girls.” Meena told Reuters in a studio in Cisarua, a town south of Jakarta where she teaches karate to refugees. Asadi feels that in Afghanistan, “everything is finished for women athletes.”
Even though the Taliban has assured Afghans that women and girls would have the right to work and education under Islamic law, Meena Asadi along with many others doubt their intentions and their own interpretation of Islamic law.
Another Taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi, had her dreams of becoming Afghanistan’s first female competitor at the Paralympic games shattered due to the recent outbreak of war in Kabul.
2. Siyar Bahadurzada
Siyar Bahadurzada, born 17th April 1984 in (Kabul) Afghanistan, is a retired, Dutch mixed martial artist who competed in the welterweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
He is also a veteran of the Shooto organisation and a long time “Shooto Middleweight Champion”. From his childhood, he was given the name “killer” by his grandfather as he used to beat kids older than him.
Facing the turmoil of Afghan-Soviet war and Taliban’s oppression, his family ultimately moved to the Netherlands in the year 1999.
He faced Marc Lange in his pro MMA debut held in the Netherlands in 2002. He was initially trained by Martijn de Jong at the Tatsujin dojo – founded in 1995. He started off his career by fighting in the lightweight division and later moved up to the middleweight and welterweight MMA divisions.
On September 30th, 2011, Siyar signed with the UFC and knocked out Paula Thiago in his official, first octagon performance at UFC on Fuel TV 2.
The match finished in a mere 42 seconds of round one, making him the first man in the UFC to knock Thiago out. The bout also earned him “Knockout of the Night” honors.
His career accomplishments stand at 24 victories, and 8 loses in his 17-year long, pro mma career, with a UFC Knockout of the Night and Performance of the Night. In professional Shooto Japan, he successfully defended his Shooto Middleweight Championship, twice. In 2010, he won the World Series Welterweight tournament.
In 2019, he faced Ismail Naurdiev in the last UFC match of his MMA career on ESPN +18. On 13th January 2020, Singapore based MMA team Evolve MMA announced Bahadurzada as their new head coach.
Mohammad Nasrat Haqparast was born on August 22nd, 1995 in Hamburg, Germany to Afghan parents and currently competes in the lightweight division of the UFC.
The 27 year-old is currently ranked the no.24 Best MMA, Lightweight fighter in the world. Nasrat Haqparast achieved a rare feat of 8 knockouts in a row and hasn’t looked back since 2013.
Haqparast’s parents fled war-torn Afghanistan to settle as refugees in Germany, and at the age of 14, was sent to attend kickboxing classes as he was deemed overweight by his parents.
His addiction in particular towards MMA was instant, upon seeing a sparring session in the room adjacent to his kickboxing classes, and that’s where his MMA journey began.
With a clean record of 4-0 at “We Love MMA” (a mixed martial arts series in Germany), Nasrat also had his talents acknowledged in the Ravage Series and Superior FC.
His exceptional talent did not go unnoticed for long as he was signed by the UFC in 2017, and according to Tapology, his career disclosed earnings currently stand at $125,000 USD.
“On a fight day, it’s 0-0 in the cage. Just the moments count. A cat becomes a tiger, a cat becomes a lion; everybody is hungry!”
Nasrat is trained by Tristar Gym head coach Firas Zahabi. After losing at the hands of Marcin Held in his debut UFC match on 21st October 2017, Nasrat made a scintillating comeback to win the next three fights which earned him his Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night bonuses.
Haqparast’s last fight against Canadian fighter, John Makdessi at UFC Fight Night 209 on 3rd September, 12 days ago resulted in a win (via decision).