Ritu Phogat believes her wrestling will get the better of Hirata’s judo

The Indian wrestler-turned fighter will be up against former judoka Itsuki Hirata on October 29 in the One Championship Atomic Weight Grand Prix semifinal.

Published : Oct 22, 2021 09:37 IST , Chennai

Ritu Phogat...“I have faith in the game and my name.”
Ritu Phogat...“I have faith in the game and my name.”

Ritu Phogat...“I have faith in the game and my name.”

Upcoming India Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) star Ritu Phogat was confident ahead of her One Championship Atomic Weight Grand Prix semifinal bout against Japan’s Itsuki Hirata, saying “my wrestling will get the better of her judo.”

“I’m improving my striking and strengthening my ground game. My opponent is also a very good fighter. She is an experienced judoka so I will not underestimate her. But I have faith in my game and my name,” Phogat said as she looked ahead to her bout on October 29.

Hailing from Indian wrestling royalty – the Phogat family—Ritu is a 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship gold medallist with a strong ground game. She will be up against former judoka Hirata who will match her skills on the mat in an epic all-grappler contest.

Ranked fourth in the atomweight rankings, Ritu is heading into the bout high on confidence after upsetting second ranked Meng Bo in a gritty come-from-behind victory in September. She was earlier removed from the Grand Prix after a shock defeat to America’s Bi Nguyen – the only in her MMA career so far – before being re-inducted following a unanimous decision victory over Heqin Lin in July.

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“My last win over the top contender silenced all the critics who said I didn’t deserve to participate in the Grand Prix,” Ritu said, adding that she would request the Championship to give her another go at Nguyen.

Ritu’s remarkable turnaround against Bo was sparked by a second-round takedown after which she was all over her opponent with her ground game. The wrestler-turned MMA fighter will be eyeing a similar move early on against Hirata as both contenders look to take the contest to the mat early on. The Indian will also look to guard against Hirata’s submission techniques, with the Japanese having registered three submission victories in her five professional bouts so far.

Ritu, whose fighting style resembles that of former UFC champion and grappler Khabib Nurmagomedov, is working hard to develop into a well-rounded fighter. Along with stepping up her striking and ground game, her training routine includes Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ).

The transition from wrestling to MMA

“My father told me that regardless of the sport you take up, making the nation proud is paramount,” Ritu said when asked about her father’s reaction to her decision of moving away from the family tradition of wrestling. The 27-year-old transitioned into MMA in 2019, with just a year to go for the 2020 Olympics and made a mark with an impressive Technical Knock-Out (TKO) victory on debut.

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“I decided to take up MMA when my wrestling was at the top and people were expecting me to do well at the 2020 Olympics. The decision wasn’t easy, but I had been watching MMA since my childhood and I always wanted to do something different. I didn’t even know whether there was a training centre for MMA in India. I would just love watching it and would wonder why there wasn’t an Indian world champion in this sport,” she said.

Ritu said her sisters (Geeta and Babita) backed her to the hilt when she told them of her decision and helped her get their father’s support.

Both Geeta and Babita are Commonwealth Games gold medallists in wrestling and Ritu takes the pressure of living up to expectations positively.

“People expect me to be as successful as my sisters and I take this as a motivation to give my best and keep pushing harder,” she said.

Despite her career switch, wrestling remains an integral part of Ritu, both in the circle and outside of it. “If I were ever to do something other than MMA, I would want to accomplish my father’s dream of winning an Olympic gold in wrestling,” she said.

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