When Abdul Azim Badakhshi pulled out of the Road to UFC tournament earlier this year it was widely reported that he had visa issues. It turned out that the Afghan featherweight was actually in prison.

Badakhshi made a triumphant return to the cage at Matrix Fight Night 13. He knocked out Hae Jin Park in the opening round and appears to be on the verge of securing a featherweight title shot.

With his celebrity girlfriend, Krishna Shroff, by his side the Afghan appeared to be on top of the world. But six months ago life was very different for Badakhshi,

“Definitely when I was in jail it was a sad and very frustrating situation. All around me all he could see at that time was little hope and a lot more sadness but that did not break my spirit. I started training. I focused on the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of my personality.”

Homemade gym

Working on the physical aspects could not have been easy. Tihar Jail in Delhi is not known for its sporting facilities and Badakhshi had to construct his own weights from the material available in order to stay in shape while incarcerated,

“I started making dumbbells from four water bottles, one liter each attached to basically like a shaft to both ends of it. I never let the thought of being weak and helpless break my spirit. I trained and wanted to show everyone once I come out who Abdul Azim Badakhshi is, where he comes from, and what he represents.”

He comes from Afghanistan but is based in India. Badakhshi has a big fan following in his homeland and says it is important for people there to have sporting heroes to look up to,

“People in have to understand they have a lot to grieve about for the past 40 years and we don’t have to list all the reasons. But the reason that MMA is so important for me and I’m so hungry to win is that I want to represent my people, the resilience of Afghan people, on a wider stage and raise my tricolor flag.”

Opportunity lost

Badakhshi was unable to make his UFC debut on account of being in prison. He sees it as an opportunity lost but hopes he will be handed a second chance,

“Definitely it is my goal to go to the UFC. I had an opportunity but due to the unfavorable situation of me being in jail, I could not take that and I definitely feel like a huge opportunity lost on my part and I wish I could have taken it. But I believe in myself and my record does match the one that the UFC requires,” he said.

Several fighters from Matrix Fight Night have gone on to sign for the UFC. Lightweight Anshul Jubli was the first and strawweight Puja Tomar recently announced she had signed a contract with the American promotion.

For Badakhshi this remains the ultimate ambition,

“I think that every fighter and every dreamer wants to fight at the UFC, and I think I also have what it takes to go to the UFC and become a champion,” he said.

Patriotic pride

Badakhshi was imprisoned after breaking the jaw of fellow fighter Srikant Sekhar at Matrix Fight Night 9, something which he openly admits to being guilty of. He claims the Indian was insulting the Afghan fans and patriotic pride forced him to intervene.

Eventually Badakhshi was released when Sekhar dropped the charges. His girlfriend is the MFN promoter and belongs to a famous Bollywood family but the Afghan says no amount of power or influence could stop Indian justice taking its course,

“Once you get into the legal process in India the law has to do what the law has to do. Luckily my friends were able to hire some high profile lawyers who got me released.”

Sekhar is no longer on the Matrix Fight Night roster. After the brawl at MFN 9 it was widely reported that Badakhshi and Shroff were in a relationship, something which fans might previously have been unaware of.

Their relationship has survived his year long incarceration and Badakhshi says she stuck by him during his darkest days,

“I feel blessed to have such a mountain of a woman in his life because she is the one who supports me emotionally. When everyone sort of left she was the only person that would console me and give me the hope that I will be at the top one day and definitely I feel the bond we have is a special one.”

Celebrity girlfriend

With over 500,000 followers on Instagram he is clearly famous in his own right. But Badakhshi cannot compete with Shroff who has 1.2 million followers and is the daughter of a legendary Bollywood actor.

Their relationship has got a lot of people talking in both India and Afghanistan but despite coming from completely different backgrounds Badakhshi believes he and Shroff have a lot in common,

“It does attract a lot of attention from both countries and it’s something unique to see our bond. I feel that Krishna is from a hardworking family who deserves what they have in their life and I’m all praise for this woman and I think that this woman is a gift from God.”

Badakhshi is correct in stating that 14-3 is a UFC calibre record. Having already made plenty of headlines in India, not always for the right reasons, he looks set to have a successful career there.

Whatever Badakhshi decides to do things are definitely lookin up for the Afghan. He has a celebrity girlfriend, a potential title shot and, perhaps most importantly, his freedom.