Ritu Phogat begins life inside the cage
Ritu Phogat’s preparation will be put to test at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing on Saturday, where she will take on South Korea’s Nam Hee Kim in an atomweight (52kg) clash in the ONE Championship.Updated: Nov 16, 2019 08:44 IST
From mat to cage, Ritu Phogat had eight months to get battle-ready for the big leap. A major chunk of that time was spent in Singapore where the daughter of Mahavir Phogat sharpened her skills in a new sport: Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
The preparation will be put to test at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing on Saturday, where Phogat will take on South Korea’s Nam Hee Kim in an atomweight (52kg) clash in the ONE Championship.
“I am technically much improved now and I will need to test it in my first match. I am learning new things every day. Wrestling still remains my biggest strength but I have dabbled in Muay Thai, BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) and boxing for months now,” said Phogat, 25, from Beijing.
Grappling is an essential component of MMA. Khabib Nurmagomedov, the UFC welterweight champion from Dagestan, Russia, uses his superb reflexes and wrestling background to force numerous takedowns. It might be the same with Phogat whose wrestling prowess (she is a U-23 World Championship silver medallist) will be an advantage. But to have the combination, an MMA fighter also needs to be strong on the striking part – be it with the hand or leg.
It is here that BJJ or Muay Thai comes in. “When Ritu first moved to Singapore, she didn’t have any knowledge about striking. Now that she’s training full time under all the world champions at Evolve MMA in Singapore, she’s learned how to strike, punch, kick, and grapple. She is strong, delivers hard punches, and wants to learn. She really works hard,” said Drian Francisco, a former WBA boxing world champion and Phogat’s coach.
Teco Shinzato coached Phogat in BJJ. “She has made significant improvement in her ground game. There is still a lot of room for progress, but compared to when she first joined us, she can better understand the concepts and techniques I teach. She’s really good at takedowns because she’s a wrestler. I try to work with it and capitalise on that to make her more of a well-rounded athlete.”
Phogat’s first opponent in the MMA is also a new entrant in the ONE Championship. In the professional arena, she has had just one fight, at the Road Fighting Championship which Kim won. With a height of 163cm, as compared to Phogat’s 156cm, the Korean will be expected to have better reach.
“She is a good athlete who will play for her country on the 16th. So there is a mutual respect. My family is waiting eagerly for the match. I have to learn from the fight and progress,” said Phogat.
Though there are quite a few Indian male MMA fighters, Phogat is the first woman from the country to join MMA. Come Saturday, her new beginning will be keenly followed.