In January 2019, Puja “The Cyclone” Tomar stepped inside the Istora Senayan in Jakarta, Indonesia, and surprised everyone in attendance.
The result of that atomweight mixed martial arts clash was certainly unexpected. Not only had the local hero been riding a two-bout winning streak, but “The Cyclone” had just dropped her first two contests on the global stage.
“I had added pressure to win,” Tomar recalls. “Although, with this kind of pressure, I also had faith in myself that I could win.”
Beyond the tough task of facing a red-hot opponent, the Indian athlete was also competing in front of a crowd that favored Lumban Gaol. But that didn’t faze her, and she even had some unexpected supporters.
“My previous bouts were against hometown stars, so it was nothing new for me in Indonesia,” Tomar says. “There were lots of Indians in the arena, who were cheering for me with ‘India! India!’ chants. It really boosted my self-confidence.”
When it came to the bout itself, Tomar – a multiple-time Indian National Wushu Champion – says the tactical match-up allowed her to feel well-prepared.
“[Lumban Gaol] was also from a wushu background and I knew her game well,” she explains.
“My strategy was to counter-attack from the very beginning. Priscilla’s game and my game are similar. She uses side kicks and roundhouse kicks a lot. I prepared for this, and my game plan was to hold her kicks and attack on the counter. I was able to execute this in the match.”
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Indeed, while Lumban Gaol was the early aggressor, “The Cyclone” had an answer for almost every strike.
Tomar hit back with strong counters and began to take the initiative as the opening round progressed. She then put the Jakarta native on the mat, got into the mount position, and unloaded heavy punches.
“When I was able to properly position myself for ground and pound, the round was over,” the Indian recalls. “If there was a bit more time, the match could have finished there.”
For much of round two, the hometown star tried controlling the pace. Tomar struck off the back foot, charged forward with combinations, and even landed some knees in the clinch.
However, in the final minute of the stanza, the tide had turned. Lumban Gaol scored a takedown and even attempted a kneebar, but the bell soon rang to end the period.
After a brief feeling-out process in the last round, the Indonesian hit a double-leg takedown, but Tomar secured an arm-in guillotine choke and squeezed tightly. The Jakarta resident ultimately popped her head out, took top position, and pressured her foe with ground strikes.
“The Cyclone” tried to sweep the local hero in the final minute of the contest, but the Siam Training Camp representative transitioned to Tomar’s back and appeared to have locked up a rear-naked choke.
“That was indeed an impressive rear-naked choke,” the Indian remembers. “I was thinking that I have performed well so far and I can win this bout. I was telling myself that whatever happens, I should not tap out.”
Somehow, Tomar managed to hold on until the final bell.
That ability to stay strong was worth it. Two of the three judges awarded the split decision victory to “The Cyclone,” who jumped in the air, fell to her knees, and burst into tears right after ONE Championship announcer Dominic Lau said her name.
“I had come from nothing to this huge platform. I gave my best throughout the match,” she says. “I was really emotional. Without many resources, I still managed to reach here and win.”
To this day, it’s a victory that Tomar will never forget – and one that showed her the true meaning of confidence.
“The win against Priscilla taught me that whatever be the circumstances, we should always believe in ourselves,” she says.
“I had faith in my training. Sometimes, you might feel that you have trained hard, but if you don’t have faith in yourself, then you can lose.”