The Phogat punch: Ritu gears up for One Championship

Ritu Phogat epitomises ‘courage’ in India's combat sporting scene. Coming from a family of celebrated wrestlers and winning gold at 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championships, Ritu shocked the wrestling world when she announced she was trading a shot at the 2020 Olympic medal with a chance of making history in Mixed Martial Arts.

Her father, Mahavir Singh Phogat, is a legendary coach, who inspired the hit movie Dangal. Despite all the conveniences, Ritu said she was fascinated by the possibility of becoming the first Indian world champion in MMA and so decided to leave her wrestling career in the shadows. “My aim to foray into the MMA circle was to do something different and improve myself. I knew I was good at wrestling, but my desire to always learn something new made me join the world-renowned Evolve MMA. Here, I get to train with multiple Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champions to bring striking and submission skills up to par with other elite wrestlers. My ultimate goal is to become India’s first Mixed Martial Arts World Champion.”

Ritu goes by the name ‘Indian Tigress’ in the MMA circle. Prowling all by herself in Singapore for 18 months now, Ritu in a virtual meet said she chose the name for herself in childhood. “Everyone used to call me ‘sherni’ because when I put my mind to something whether it is in the wrestling ring or outside, I just go for it like a determined tigress! Mujhe zindagi me koi cheez haasil karni hoti hai toh mein Sherni ke jaise jhapatta marti hoon,” Ritu said in a confident tone.

Apart from training and learning new techniques, Ritu says it has been a rollercoaster year and a half for her in Singapore. “It has been a challenging transition for me — living in a new country all by myself. Also, I don’t have my sisters around or my father to take advice from. But everything has slowly become better now because the lockdown has eased considerably in Singapore and now I am working out and training at the gym. I have been working on improving my striking technique as I want to show the world that we Indians are all-rounders — on and off the field!

Ritu will take on Cambodian MMA sensation Nou Srey Pov on October 30 for the Atomweight Championship belt at ONE: Inside The matrix in Evolve MMA. It will be her first bout since the match-up against Chen on February 28, which she won albeit a tough challenge. Ritu claims to have worked hard on skills since then and wants to show the world that she is so much more than a wrestler. “I don’t want to discuss a lot of strategies now. I’d rather employ them in the ring. I have studied videos of Pov and have a plan in place. I want to show everyone that I am more than a grappler,” she said.

The three-time national champion in wrestling advised Indians to practice yoga and meditation to ensure the current environs due to Covid don’t take a toll on mental health. “Out of 24 hours, I would advise everyone to take out just 30 minutes and practice Yoga. Even doing household chores helps. Yoga, meditation, or anything that suits your preference. This will improve your lifestyle and help you overcome this challenging phase,” Ritu signed off.

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