Ritu Phogat outlines MMA goals, expects Indian wrestlers to shine at Tokyo 2020

Indian mixed martial artist Ritu Phogat is determined to become the first MMA world champion from the country, while she feels her cousin Vinesh is a medal contender at Tokyo 2020.

Ritu Phogat will face Lin Heqin at ONE: Battleground on Friday.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

In mixed martial arts, there are currently very few Indian fighters with championship-winning potential. And on top of this list is Ritu Phogat, who is making great strides in the Singapore-based ONE Championship.

She had missed out on the Women's Atomweight Grand Prix, which is an eight-member knockout tournament to determine the next title challenger, by a whisker this year. Hence, she is more determined than ever to bag a victory in her upcoming bout against Lin Heqin at ONE: Battleground on Friday.

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"I need to win my next match with Lin. She is a good and highly experienced athlete, so I have to be more than 100 per cent on that day. Becoming the first Indian MMA champion is the goal I came here with, and I will not stop till I achieve that," she told Sportstar.

Nicknamed 'The Indian Tigress', Ritu suffered her first MMA defeat - a split decision against Bi Nguyen - at ONE: Dangal in May 2021, slumping to a 4-1 record in the process. Though she wasn't happy with the judges' scorecards back then, Ritu is focused on the present now.

"I thought the decision (against Nguyen) should have gone my way, but the past is past. You cannot be worried about that anymore. I have to learn from my past experiences and focus on the next challenge," said the 27-year-old fighter.

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ONE Championship has been signing quite a few Indian stars for its roster. The Asian MMA promotion sees the subcontinent as a viable market that could boost its growth. 

The chairman of the company Chatri Sityodtong also owns the Evolve chain of martial arts academies, where Ritu trains. The Haryana-born star confirmed that Sityodtong is thinking about expanding ONE and Evolve to India.

"ONE promoting Indian fighters is a huge boost. I feel India's MMA athletes have the talent and grit to be world champions. The only thing we require is exposure and platform. So ONE looking for athletes from India is amazing."

"It will be fantastic if Evolve MMA comes to India. I think they already have plans to open international gyms, but with the current COVID situation, I feel this will take time," she stated.

Vinesh a top medal contender at Tokyo 2020

A former wrestler herself, Ritu is the third daughter of the Dronacharya Awardee Mahavir Singh Phogat. She has won medals at the Commonwealth, Asian and World U-23 Wrestling Championships.

Ritu Phogat..."It will be fantastic if Evolve MMA comes to India. I think they already have plans to open international gyms, but with the current COVID situation, I feel this will take time." - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Her cousin Vinesh Phogat, who had exited the women's 48kg freestyle wrestling event in the quarterfinal stage of the 2016 Rio Olympics owing to a knee injury, will try her luck in the 53kg weight category this time around. Ritu feels Vinesh is capable of winning a medal. 

"I feel this year we have the best chance to get many medals in Wrestling. Vinesh missed one last Olympics due to an unfortunate injury, but I feel she is a top medal contender now," added Ritu. 

"The Olympic debutants like Anshu Malik, Sonam Malik, Seema Bisla are also contenders. The men - Bajrang Punia, Ravi Kumar (Dahiya) and Deepak Punia - have shone at the global stage. So they can win medals too."

Ritu also offered her support to the 127-strong Indian athlete contingent featuring at the Games in Japan.

"I will be closely following the Tokyo Olympics. We have strong medal potential this year in boxing, shooting, wrestling etc. I think we can get the best tally if all goes well."

Ritu recently signed a deal with American sporting equipment giant Under Armour. She expressed her delight over the partnership.

"I'm honoured to join the list of elite athletes such as Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, Anthony Joshua, and Michael Phelps, who have taken Under Armour’s values and principles to a new generation." 

"Their aim of helping athletes around the globe to put in the work to achieve their goals resonates with the mindset I carry every time I enter the ring," she claimed.

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