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Monday, June 27, 2022

“Getting back into Mixed Martial Arts changed me after going to jail” Inspirational Rizwan Sultans’ journey from being behind bars to being a Mixed Martial Arts coach

Before going to jail with drug charges, Rizwan Sultan was an experienced mixed martial arts fighter who had the ultimate dream to become one of the greatest fighters coming out of Dewsbury.

Born and bred in Dewsbury, Rizwan was one of many siblings within his household. A family with 8 brothers and 3 sisters, Rizwan was one of the eldest.

Growing up and being Bengali was very tough as there was a lot of racism he and his family faced within the community. Rizwan and his family were amongst the very few Bengali families living in Dewsbury.

Due to all the bullying, he faced growing up, Rizwan needed to be that elder brother who looked out for his family. Occasionally he would fight and get into brawls in and outside of school which made him a tough person growing up.

Coming from a very deprived area, growing up people didn’t really think Rizwan would be more than just a Bengali kid. Within his own heart though he knew he was more and wanted to prove to himself that he could be more than just being that kid labelled a ‘troubled child’.

At an early age, Rizwan got into weightlifting to use his strength towards something meaningful rather than just fighting. He expresses, “I remember walking into the gym and seeing all these grown men walking about. I was 14 at the time and I went with my best friend Mudathir who got me into training”.

“Going in there and using my strength to build myself mentally and physically was very important to me and I was getting really good at it. We didn’t have smartphones to look at how to use different equipment, but I wasn’t scared and neither was Mudathir to speak up and ask for help”.

“I remember lifting a lot of weight at a young age and I really enjoyed it because for the first time in my life I had a meaning and a purpose to do something I loved”.

Rizwan expressed his shift towards mixed martial arts began when he was having stamina issues in lifting weight which made him want to get into fighting to build his stamina so he could lift heavier.

“I got into boxing because of Mudathir who would go often but the thing was, going boxing I needed to fork out at least £14 a session and that was something difficult for me to do being a kid”.

Rizwan than explained he started asking his parents and elder brothers to help him save money towards a membership but not at a boxing gym but towards a mixed martial arts gym based in Dewsbury called Caged Steel which was a lot closer to his home.

“I walked into that gym and I bloody loved it. It was a sense of just seeing how everyone was pushing themselves to the limit and I wanted to know I could do that too. Even when trainers wouldn’t expect me to continue I did and that really helped me to see I was slowly getting on their level.

“I didn’t get into MMA because I wanted to be a bully but a guy who knew how to defend himself and did something useful with his life”.

Rizwan’s passion and determination continued outside the ring as he explains, he would run 3 miles every single day before doing weightlifting in the morning and going to MMA classes in the evening.

He explains how he didn’t know that he had to just do one because of the lack of education of training so he did all three and this made him at just 19 get the chance to compete in a mixed martial arts tournament.

He explains, “I was blown away because I was in this routine of training like an animal and my coaches could see I was picking up things very quickly.

“They told me about the top fighter in the gym who had pulled out the fight and wanted me to step in and I took the opportunity because it was something I wanted to do to show himself he could do it”.

Rizwan went on to fight an undefeated fighter and unfortunately lost but explains it was all a learning curve for someone like him at the age of 21 to get this experience against someone who was 6-0 and around 32 years of age.

Young Rizwan working in security

Later in life, Rizwan wasn’t training as much in MMA and started working as a doorman to earn some money. When he started working as a doorman at some very popular clubs in Leeds, he was getting influenced by the people who would come in as he admits, “These guys pretty much had everything. The money and the cars were something I looked at because it wasn’t something I had when I was younger, so I tagged a long because they all knew me.

“Someone offered me to sell drugs for them and I did. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I was earning a serious amount. What I can say was, I was making the money I would make in a month working in security by just selling drugs in a couple of hours”.

Realisation creeped into Rizwan when he was arrested and sentenced to prison for carrying and dealing drugs.

Rizwan amongst family and friends who fueled him to get back into training

Rizwan explains it being one of the lowest times of his life because at this point in his life everyone knew him as the MMA guy and not only that but being an uncle to his nieces and nephews. Having the responsibility as an uncle and just as a Muslim made him rethink who he was and the example he wanted to represent to others.

From being one of the select few people within Dewsbury to get into MMA a lot of kids saw Rizwan as a role model. Teenagers and young adults were getting into his former bad habits and Rizwan knew he needed to change up.

Rizwan was eager to show himself he was more than the criminal record he had in his life. He explains, “You know society looks down on people who have a criminal record and within the Asian community it’s massive. Because of a mistake I made it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.

“Even when I came out of jail, I was asked to get back into drug dealing but I knew I was bigger than that and I wanted to take control of my life. I wanted to be that Rizwan again who got into MMA when nobody did and more importantly the follower of Islam who had faith in Allah.

“MMA changed my life when I was young and it’s changed it even more because now I educate my students through the lessons I’ve learnt.

“There’s a lot of kids who need guidance and I’m happy I can be that person for them”.

Rizwan recently opened his gym in a partnership with Zahir Akbar who owns Warrior Breed in Dewsbury. Now, not only as a person who has had experience from going to prison but being an MMA coach is something he loves to do as he set up his The Unit MMA Gym.

Young and upcoming students after a hard training session

“I love seeing kids who were similar to me as a child come to my gym and train. They’re learning valuable lessons which they can take from me, and I can speak to them on a personal level because I know what its like being a kid and seeing the glitz and glamour of the high life.

“One thing I’d like to finish off with is, yes, drugs are something you might think is easy and fun but long term the damage it has caused me is crucial. Never get into drugs and never let yourself stoop that low. Remember, you’re bigger than that and you’ll go far in life if do something you love.

“MMA was my passion and it’s now something I do for a living to help the younger generation and I know its helped me getting back into MMA because it’s changed my life”.

The Unit MMA is expected to continue classes in the New Year for students from across the region.

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