Women who inspire us: Ritu Phogat

Ritu Phogat has dared to script a story like no other as she has her eyes set on becoming the country's first world champion in mixed martial arts.

Hailing from one of India’s most famous wrestling families, Ritu decided to give up Olympic aspirations for something a little off-beat - mixed martial arts.   -  Getty Images

Indian wrestler-turned-MMA fighter Ritu Phogat has dared to script a story like no other as she has her eyes set on becoming the country's first world champion in the high-octane sport of mixed martial arts.

Leaving behind her wrestling royalty, more importantly, an attempt at an Olympic medal, the 25-year-old is now charting a new path after making an explosive MMA debut in November last year, where she beat South Korea’s Kim Nam-hee via TKO under three minutes in the One Championship.

With a gold medal at the 2016 Commonwealth Games and a silver in the U-23 Wrestling Championships in 2017, Ritu was touted as a strong medal contender in the 48kg category at the Tokyo Olympics this year. But to everyone’s surprise, in February 2019, she switched from wrestling -- a sport where she has proven her mettle -- to mixed martial arts.

READ: Ritu Phogat: My dream is to give India its first-ever MMA world champion

Hailing from one of India’s most famous wrestling families, Ritu took up wrestling at the age of eight under the guidance of her wrestler father Mahavir Singh Phogat. She later followed in the footsteps of her elder sisters Babita and Geeta, who have both won gold at the Commonwealth Games. 

Ritu was, however, attracted by the lure of making history in a new sport. “I got a chance to train with the best in Singapore and there was no looking back," she told AFP. "There was the 2020 Olympic Games but I thought that I would do well in mixed martial arts. I have come with an aim of becoming the first girl from India to become a world champion in mixed martial art."

 

After a promising MMA debut, she dominated her second bout at the One Championship by beating debutant Wu Chiao Chen of China. 

Ritu, who was inspired by watching reigning UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor, is well aware that she is running a risk by switching sports but believes “one has to take risks to do something new” and like any other athlete, she is “ready to embrace every challenge”. 

Perhaps, the young girl from Balali village in Haryana, whose family story was immortalised by Bollywood (Dangal, 2016), is hoping to create a blockbuster of her own.