Gurdarshan “Saint Lion” Mangat overcame huge odds to become the top, pound-for-pound Indian mixed martial artist.
The flyweight contender – who will make his return against Reece “Lightning” McLaren on Friday, 6 December at ONE: MARK OF GREATNESS – got a late start to his career at the age of 22. Before that, he was in no shape to be a professional athlete.
However, the 32-year-old found a way to overcome his physical limitations to outmatch almost every opponent he has faced and become perhaps his nation’s best hope of having a World Champion on the global stage.
Mangat says he was very unhealthy in his youth because he was raised in a household where his family did not understand much about nutrition. After taking a job in a fast-food restaurant, he started packing on some serious weight and at one point, got as big as 175 pounds (about 79.5 kilograms).
“I worked at McDonald’s and I didn’t know what nutrition was,” he explains.
“I ate McDonald’s five times a week, and I would eat there three times a day. I worked there, so I got 50 percent off food and by the age of 15 or 16, my body started developing. When you’re eating that kind of food it’s going to start showing up.
“My chest used to hurt. I’d get chest pains constantly because I was literally living off of McDonald’s for a few years.”
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When he finally moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, Mangat just decided that he had to take better care of himself if he was going to live a full, happy life.
Soon after he took steps to lose his excess weight, he discovered the sport that would change everything.
“I wanted to change who I [was],” Mangat says. “I always heard the big city was a dog-eat-dog world and I wanted to be the big dog, so I had to change myself.
“I started working out and I lost the weight, and then mixed martial arts came across, and that’s how it all began.”
Though he soon had a competitor’s physique, he still had other physical issues that could have stopped him from fulfilling his dream.
He had dealt with breathing problems since he was a child, and was diagnosed with asthma, which should have made it almost impossible to battle hard for 15 to 25 minutes.
“Saint Lion” found that out the hard way when he first pulled on the gloves to compete, but his trainers helped him to push through.
“I had an asthma attack in my first amateur fight,” he reveals.
“In between rounds, my coaches sat me down and said, ‘Your technique sucks, but you’ve got so much heart, we’ve never seen anyone fight as hard as you do or want it as bad as you do.’”
Amazingly, his incredible warrior spirit helped him to dig deep, continue, make it to the final bell, and ultimately win a decision to set him on his way toward superstardom.
There is no cure for asthma, and while Mangat still suffers from symptoms from time to time, he has never allowed the disease to be a limitation on his career through smart training and sheer willpower.
He never gives in to the urge to quit, and has pushed himself beyond the limit of ordinary people to compete like he has no impediment on his breathing, and make his endurance one of his greatest weapons.
That was on full display as he outworked both of his opponents to win his first two matches in The Home Of Martial Arts – first by TKO against Toni “Dynamite” Tauru, and then a decision against Abro “The Black Komodo” Fernandes.
“When I feel that burn, when I feel like I’m suffocating, I try to do laps underwater while holding my breath and just fight through that,” Mangat says.
“That’s all it was. It was non-stop pushing my mind to a point where I feel like I’m drowning underwater but I’m always fighting, I’m always doing work. It didn’t come easy.
“I had to learn to cope with it. Mixed martial arts is one of the most endurance-based sports where conditioning is one of the key things, and it can make a coward out of anybody. I refused to give up.
“I’ve just learned to turn my weaknesses into my strengths. My endurance is one of the things people always talk about the most but being an asthmatic kid, that’s the last thing that people would compliment you on.”