The great Indonesian hope

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It would seem sensible to think that the more inhabitants a country has, the greater the number of top athletes it produces. But that’s not necessarily the case in other sports, and it’s certainly not that way in MMA.

China, India, the US, Indonesia, Brazil – there’s your list of the world’s most populous nations in descending order. Number three and five numerically do have the sport cornered with most of the top-rated competitors, though, and the number of elite fighters seems to multiply exponentially; as it seems to in Canada, which has more than its fair share of great talent despite its population count. So perhaps having a national hero, like a Georges Saint-Pierre, makes the difference by garnering public interest, investment, and more practitioners.

Now number four, Indonesia, may be getting set to cross the MMA threshold. And the diehards who make up the country’s fan base have their hopes firmly pinned on one man’s shoulders.

Tirta nearly ends his fight with Chengjie Wu at the first-round bell. Photo: Legends FC.

Boasting ten wins and one draw in an eleven-fight career that dates back to 2003, Fransino Tirta is the top Indonesian mixed martial artist on the scene right now. By winning his next commitment, when he enters the final at the Legends FC featherweight GP this October, Fransino would be the first Indonesian ever to hold an international MMA title. Should that happen, the way will be clear for Fransino, his coaches, and his nation’s fight fans to aim for the stars.

While Tirta’s early martial arts experience came in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, it was the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu he learned from Niko Han that gave him the polish and wherewithal to rattle off his first seven MMA wins, which he achieved in less than two years at Indonesia’s now defunct TPI Fighting Championship, a promotion that was broadcast live across Indonesia twice a month but didn’t have the talent pool to keep it up. Han, a Jiu-Jitsu black belt whose Synergy Jiu-Jitsu network of academies spans the nation, is determined to get his purple belt past the next hump to do his people proud. The Indonesian-hope’s mentor explains what he has in mind to get that ball rolling with a title, when they lock horns with Mark Stiegle in the grand GP finale.

Tirta (left) and Han prepare spiritually at a Balinese temple. Photo: Desiree Djorghi

“He will continue with the same boxing coach, I just need to find him more pro boxers to spar with, because we don’t have any his weight or heavier. He has a family now, so he can’t travel to far-off places to train with the best of the best, like go to Kalimantan where the best Indonesian wrestlers are. But that’s okay, we’ll find him the best training partners in Jakarta, get him ready there as much as possible before he comes to Bali five weeks before the fight for the final training camp, where we put everything together: strategy, mindset, spiritual aspects, conditioning, strength, and fine-tune everything,” says Han, who since the mid nineteen-nineties trained with such top fighters as Rickson Gracie, Jean-Jacques Machado, Chuck Liddell, to name just a few; before returning to his country of birth, where he lives and runs his own academy on the island of Bali.

Although he has been guiding Fransino’s development from the start and coached him to a level of proficiency whereby the purple belt makes his living teaching the gentle art at the Synergy branch in Jakarta, the intense MMA-focused training akin to what elite professionals are doing around the world these days is a recent addition to Tirta’s routine – to keep up with the ongoing evolution of the sport.

Watch the video of the Legends FC GP semifinal here (keyword: fransino wu).

“He’s still teaching BJJ all the time,” says Niko, “But for this fight he dropped some of his classes and privates in order to focus more on himself – training with an ex-national boxing coach and doing plenty strength and conditioning.”

“To be honest, before this fight he never really trained much to up his MMA skills during off season, he’d only start training two to three weeks before a fight. And since the level of MMA is evolving every single day, he can’t get away with doing that anymore.”

While Han’s dedication to his prodigy is unwavering, Tirta is equally dedicated to his master and his master’s cause, which he makes clear in a quote on the Synergy academy blog where he speaks of the aftermath of his Legends FC win last July:

“A martial arts expert said, ‘Don’t undervalue Wu Cheng Jie [addressing China Top Team staff]. Although he lost, he only lost by decision against the best fighter in that event. You should not be disappointed,’ and China Top Team’s coach replied, ‘So what? Our team is the best team in the world.’

Tirta (left) and Han / Personal archive photo

“Hearing that, I was very envious of the mentality they have. They have the mentality that they are the best team in the world. I don’t have that kind of mentality, I didn’t feel like my team is the best in the world. Hearing that, I promised myself that I would make our team the best team in the world. In order to accomplish this, I have to win the title on October 29, 2011. I have to prove to the world that our team is the best team in the world, the winning team.”

It’ll be three months before the world will see whether Fransino Tirta and Niko Han will provide the watershed for the world’s vastest archipelago, but if the pair’s determination and hard work bear fruit, we may end up seeing MMA’s following bolstered by a population 240-million strong.

“He’s going to work much harder than ever before. He’s going to be ten times better, faster, stronger, and smarter. He’s going to be a beast!”

If what Han is promising is true, it may happen sooner than later.

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