Ritu Phogat’s code: Fight the good fight
Mahavir Phogat sat and watched from the front row as his daughter Ritu performed burpees—a punishing combination of push-ups and squats—at will. Far removed from the rustic Balali in Bhiwani, Haryana where he trained his girls to break the norm and become wrestlers, here was one of his own going through the routine in the midst of flashy lights, booming sound boxes and a room full of journalists.
Then again, Ritu’s world has been a lot different since March, 2019. It was then that the 25-year-old decided to live a dream of her own in Mixed Martial Arts, moving away from the Phogat senior’s aim to carve out at least one Olympic wrestling champion out of his daughters.
Ritu is now based in Singapore and won her maiden MMA bout at the One Championship via technical knockout over South Korean Nam Hee Kim in under three minutes in November, 2019. She is currently preparing for her second fight against Chinese Taipei’s Wu Chiao Chen on February 28 in Singapore. Ritu was in the national capital to promote the event. Her fight will be an under-card to the main event featuring One atomweight world champion Stamp Fairtex and Janet Todd. “I have been watching a lot of videos and studying her techniques. After my first fight I had a lot of work to do. I was new then and probably some of my moves were probably not as smoothly executed as I would have expected it to be,” Ritu said.
The shortcomings that Ritu mentioned was evident from the way she moved against Kim during her first fight. Coming from a wrestling background, she was more focused on the takedowns using her upper body, and she enforced it thrice to ground-and-pound her opponent. However, on a number of occasions it was evident that she had some work to do with her leg movement. In a sport like MMA, which is a mixture of grappling, kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, synchronising all the body parts to land a powerful blow, or get into a good defensive position, is crucial.
Ritu was too slow on her legs and also came under attack from her inexperienced rival. Her second opponent Wu is a 36-year-old fighter and has a 2-1 win-loss record in professional MMA.
“Well Wu’s age does not really matter. It is my second fight and my concentration is on testing everything that I learnt from my first win. I have been working on my striking ability. Coming from a wrestling background, I am confident of my grappling abilities. In fact, out of the top 10 MMA fighters, seven are from wrestling. So I count that as my strength but the hitting part, I have to improve,” Ritu said.
“It feels great when I can let out my frustration on my opponent with a good strike. But then again to land the perfect punch, one which will knock out the rival, requires perseverance.”
Ritu, who won a silver medal at the 2017 U-23 World Wrestling Championships and a bronze at the Asian Championships the same year, knows following the MMA path means that she might not be able to fulfill her father’s dream of an Olympic medal.
“This time Vinesh (her cousin) will be at the Olympics from our family. We are all rooting for her. She was unfortunate to suffer an injury in the 2016 edition. But she has recovered well and we are all rooting for her to win a gold medal,” she said.