V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
Top Indian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Ritu Phogat is fit and ready for her next bout in the ONE Championship at the Singapore Indoor Stadium tonight, after experiencing a difficult time during Covid-19's peak in Singapore.
"I'm raring to go," she told tabla!. "I have been training hard and I feel I'm back to full form as it is an important fight for me."
The 26-year-old has an impressive record in the ONE Championship, the Singapore-based MMA, muay thai and kickboxing promotion which is considered one of the top draws in the world.
On Oct 30, the atomweight (48kg) registered her third consecutive win of her MMA career with a technical knockout win over Cambodia's Nou Srey Pov at the ONE Championship: Inside The Matrix event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The referee stopped the bout two minutes and 30 seconds into the second of three rounds.
Tonight, she will take on Jomary Torres of the Philippines in her next fight at the ONE Championship: Big Bang event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. "It's a new challenge for me as the Filipina is a good fighter," said Ritu.""But I will give 110 per cent and make India proud."
Ritu is fully prepared after her training plans were curtailed by the onset of Covid-19 in Singapore.
The wrestling expert, a Commonwealth champion, switched to MMA in 2018 and came to Singapore that year to train at the Evolve MMA academy.
"From March onwards it was tough for me," she said. "Training was not happening and I was alone. I couldn't talk to anyone or step out of my room."
The fighter from Balali in Haryana thought she was mentally and physically losing it. So, she started doing meditation and ordered a punching bag online. "I knew it was important to keep myself busy," she said. "I'm good at wrestling but am still improving in boxing. I felt it was a good time to stay indoors and work on my boxing skills."
When it comes to wrestling, Ritu can always count on getting tips from her father Mahavir, who is known as a top coach in India.
He famously coached his four daughters - Geeta, Babita, Ritu and Sangita - to international stardom.
The sacrifices he made to groom his daughters in a male-dominated arena was the theme of the mega Bollywood hit Dangal starring Aamir Khan.
"I always talk to my father when I have doubts about my wrestling technique," said Ritu. "But he cannot do much when it comes to boxing. So I turned to my coach at Evolve, Siyar Bahadurzada, who told me what to do.
"I think I have improved on the boxing front over the past seven months."
From mid-July, Ritu started working out at Evolve, after it reopened. But again she had to train on her own because of the circuit breaker measures.
"I did striking and strength training as wrestling was not allowed," she said. "But I worked really hard."
Her refreshed competitive mentality was visible when she beat Nou.
"I knew I had to be at full strength and do it in style because the Cambodian is a good fighter," said Ritu. "I felt euphoric because the hardships and challenges that I faced during the pandemic paid off."
The fight against Torres tonight will not be easy as the Filipina is strong in wushu and sambo. Ritu expects a classic grappler versus striker battle, but is hoping to come out on top.
"She is a good fighter, she is going to be a challenge for me," said Ritu.
"I have watched her fights, and she is good. I respect her a lot, but I trust my training and hard work."
After tonight's fight, she desperately wants to take a break and go to India and meet her family in Haryana.
"I regret missing my younger sister Sangita's wedding (to top Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia) on Nov 25," said Ritu, who is single. "I want to make up for it.
"Being with my family will give me new energy and optimism. But I will think twice before travelling because I don't want to jeopardise my career.
"Mandatory quarantine in India and Singapore will mean missing at least a month of training at Evolve. That will set back my MMA progress by at least three months. I want to do well in MMA and avoid any lapses."
Ritu's goal in the new year is to emerge as the ONE Championship atomweight world champion.
"I want to make India a powerhouse in MMA," she said. "I'm improving day by day and step by step I will reach there."
She will also feature in The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition - ONE's unique take on the hit reality TV show - as one of 12 guest athletes.
Each guest will participate in physical challenges in the show, which will also judge the business skills of a group of contestants competing for a job offer with a high-profile CEO.
The first season of The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition, projected for release and distribution early next year, will have 13 episodes.
"As a champion athlete, it is my job to tackle physical challenges on a daily basis," said Ritu. "I'm excited to participate in the physical challenges at The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition. It's going to be fun."
"I want to make India a powerhouse in MMA. I'm improving day by day and step by step I will reach there."
- MMA fighter Ritu Phogat (left)