BLACKOUT for DAKAR ’16 by Bacar Baldé

The LionHeart Initiative hosted French MMA Fighter Bacar “Blackout” Baldé, a veteran of 22 professional MMA fights, who has offered to support the LionHeart vision. In December 2016, Bacar offered MMA classes, led grappling classes, and cross-trained in Laamb wrestling in Dakar, Senegal. As son of the continent, Bacar holds deep passion for West Africa and its culture. A highlight of his journey was a chance to experience and cross-train with Senegalese traditional Laamb wrestlers from Grand Yoff Mbolo Training Center, an affiliate of the LionHeart Initiative in Dakar.

A little known fact abroad, MMA are not entirely new to West Africa.  A local martial art,often referred to as traditional wrestling (known as “Laamb” in Senegal and “Sineta” in Mali) has reportedly been practiced since the 14th century.  Traditional wrestling, which includes striking, clinch fighting, and grappling, is one of the region’s most popular distractions and the national sport of Senegal, where it draws larger crowds than any other sport or attraction in the country. This Senegalese national obsession hasmajor cultural significance, including a spiritual dimension, and for many underprivileged young men, it offers the only chance to earn a good living.  Desperate to lift themselves out of poverty, despite numerous challenges andaustere training conditions, many wrestlers train for numerous hours everyday in the hopes of someday making it to the top and being able to support their families.  Introducing MMA to West African youths with the help of talented mixed martial artist like Bacar Baldé will undoubtedly open new doors for these young men, whose hard work, discipline, and dedication is seldom matched by athletes in other parts of the world.
This project contributed to LionHeart vision to lift deserving and talented athletes frompoverty by driving a long-term development of MMA in Africa with the aim of creating local and international opportunities for young athletes to excel in the world’s fastest growing sport and mainstream entertainment. A unique strength of the LionHeart Initiative is its ability to motivate volunteers and connect experienced martial artists with talented athletes in Africa. Over the years, the MMA for Africa movement, which grew out of the LionHeart Initiative, has led to dozens of volunteer instructors worldwide traveling to Africa and offering free seminars in MMA or underlying grappling and striking arts. In return, these foreign visitors are afforded a life-changing experience in training with local martial artists and being exposed to the rich culture and traditions of African communities.

While continuing short-term projects led by foreign volunteers to grow MMA and underlying martial arts (thereafter cited as MMA) in Africa, but recognizing its limitations, the LionHeart Initiative will also fund long-term MMA travelers to live and train in African communities. Concurrently, LionHeart will promote and support pan-African exchanges for African MMA fighters to travel to neighboring countries to share their skills, which represents a cost effective and sustainable long-term concept of operation. Additionally, LionHeart will help organize competitive circuits and collaborate with local promoters to hold MMA events, which will serve promote the sport locally, motivate aspiring pro-fighters, and alter the local martial arts landscape.