Season 5 of VIVO Pro Kabaddi has taken the nation by storm, and with the addition of four new teams this year, more cities are getting the opportunity to witness the high-octane action from close quarters. Besides the four new teams from Gujarat, Haryana, Chennai and Uttar Pradesh, Nagpur also experienced the action up close for the first time this season after it was announced that Bengaluru Bulls would be playing their home matches in the Orange City.

Rich with a sporting culture that has seen the city produce many talents across multiple sports, it was of little surprise that the kabaddi craze captured the attention of the locals as they regularly thronged the stadium, packing it to the rafters in their thousands. Even though the Bulls won just two of their six matches in the leg, losing three and drawing the other, there were numerous moments that brought the audience at the Mankapur Indoor Stadium to their feet. During the course of the Nagpur leg, took this opportunity to assess the impact made by VIVO Pro Kabaddi with local journalist Paritosh Pramanik of the regional English daily, The Hitavada. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

This was the first time Pro Kabaddi came to Nagpur. What do you think about the overall reception the sport has received in the city?

It’s been excellent. Kabaddi is not new for Nagpur. For years Nagpur has given a lot of great kabaddi players. It’s the first time Pro Kabaddi is here as the Bengaluru team shifted their home base here. The crowd has been amazing and it’s sold out as well. It’s really amazing to see these players. Nagpur has always seen the players on TV but now they can see them live. They are cheering for Rohit [Kumar], Rahul [Chaudhari] and it’s amazing.

Tell us more about the sporting culture in Nagpur.

See it’s a mixed culture in Nagpur. There is not only one sport over here. Umesh Yadav hails from Nagpur. In the early 90s, it was Prashant Vaidya. In football, we also had a lot of great players. Alwyn George plays for Bengaluru FC. Hockey is also good here. So, every sport gets proper coverage and a proper response here.

What do the local journalists make of VIVO Pro Kabaddi?

The response which Pro Kabaddi has got here is amazing. So I think there should also be a Nagpur team. I spoke to some fans and they want a Nagpur team to play. Even school kids are the fans. My friend’s son is a big fan of Ran Singh [Bengal Warriors]. So, the kids are watching them and following them so it’s really good. Earlier it was the IPL but now it’s Pro Kabaddi. The kids are following them, keeping a tab on them and they know when the matches are happening.

Do you think being fast-paced kabaddi helps engaging the fans?

Yes, it really helps. If you watch IPL it’s a three-hour match but in Pro Kabaddi in two hours there are two matches played. So, the shorter the game, the better and it’s a fast game so that also attracts the fans.

Pro Kabaddi has helped to break down the rural-urban barrier and change the mindset of the people for the sport. What are your thoughts on that?

Things have to change. Earlier it was played in the mud. In all the sports, the rules are changing and the more you keep it viewer-friendly it will grow. Now all depends on the TV audiences, the more you give them, the more they will watch and any league will grow.

There are two teams from Maharashtra playing in Pro Kabaddi, so are you looking forward to a third one, from Nagpur?

I have already said that Nagpur should be added as well. It’s a loss for Pro Kabaddi if they don’t add Nagpur because you’ll get good players from districts like Amravati, Yavatmal. Some players have played in Nagpur so they know what the crowd is over here like. The crowd knows each and every rule of the sport. Shubham Palkar is from Nagpur who plays for Dabang Delhi K.C. So kabaddi is great here.

One memorable moment from this leg, which will stay with you...

The [four-point] super raid from Ajay Kumar that was the turning point the other evening. The way he jumped back and got out of the clutches of the defenders was really great. These moments really pump the crowd up.

Click here to relive the top 5 moments from the Nagpur leg.