Asha “Knockout Queen” Roka was one of the most exciting debutants to arrive in ONE Championship last year, and now, she wants to solidify her position as one of the top female martial artists in the entire organization.
The Indian national boxing champion returns to the global stage on Friday, 31 January. She is scheduled to face Gina “Conviction” Iniong in a women’s atomweight mixed martial arts bout at ONE: FIRE & FURY in Manila, Philippines.
Before she makes her second promotional appearance in the Circle at the Mall Of Asia Arena, the 21-year-old reflects on the inspiring journey that led her to The Home Of Martial Arts.
A Sporting Childhood
Roka hails from Bhopal, India, and she has Nepalese heritage. She grew up in the Madhya Pradesh state capital with her parents, brother, and sister.
Her father was an unskilled worker in the local hospital, so they lived modestly, but he was passionate about sports, and encouraged his children to participate.
“I had very good support from my family because my father always liked sports,” she says.
Her brother played cricket, while she was an avid basketball player at the local sports academy. However, all three children eventually found the same passion for boxing.
“My brother went for boxing – his boxing skills are very good,” Roka adds.
“One day, I went with him to the academy just casually to explore and to know what martial arts is. I saw that a lot of girls and boys were doing boxing practice together. I felt this was very attractive and very unique, so I decided to join.”
Starting In “The Sweet Science”
Roka’s boxing lessons began at the age of 11 at the local stadium, and her natural ability was soon noticed by one of the trainers.
“I always liked martial arts. I wanted to go for wushu, but one of the boxing coaches invited me to train because he saw something in me,” she recalls.
“I was able to do pretty well on the first day of my training, so the coach invited me there for practice, and that’s when my boxing career started.”
The youngster committed herself to her training, and soon earned the chance to join her state’s boxing squad.
She overcame tough competition in the trials to get a spot at the academy. Because of the appeal of a nutritious diet that was suitable for athletes and the convenience of not having to travel there, “Knockout Queen” settled into the athletes’ housing.
With easy access to everything she needed, Roka’s decision paid off. She racked up a long list of accolades including local, national, and international titles, as well as a bronze medal in the World Championships in Bulgaria in 2013.
“I won a gold medal in my first international competition, then the biggest of all is the World Championships,” she says.
“For us, this is very important, and winning a medal in the World Championships is a very big thing. I was the only athlete from India to win a medal. It was a very proud moment for me.”
A Bold Decision
Despite all of Roka’s success in the ring, factors beyond her control stopped her boxing dreams in its tracks.
“In India, boxing was banned for three years, so there were no competitions being held,” she says.
“Camps were being organized, but there were no tours. I felt demotivated and lost interest in boxing. Also, there was lots of politics in boxing as well.
“I was watching some mixed martial arts fights on TV, and then I got attracted to it. I thought there was no harm in trying, so I took a break from boxing and tried mixed martial arts.”
There was nowhere to train her new sport in her home state, so she packed her bags and moved more than 700 kilometers away to Delhi.
Her family was not pleased with her decision and tried to make her rethink her choices, but she stuck to her guns – even when things got tough.
“My father and mother were very upset. They told me several times to rejoin the academy. Many people told me to go back, but I did what I wanted to do,” Roka continues.
“It was difficult for me to stay there and to put aside the money needed for the training. I got some financial support from my family, but that was not sufficient enough to meet my training needs.
“It was very difficult, but I had some friends there, and they supported me. I thought if I could compete in a mixed martial arts fight once, then everyone would come to know about my capability.”
Working To The Top
In the face of the doubters, Roka took her first bout against a heavier, more experienced opponent and scored a 9-second KO to get her new career off to a flying start.
“At that time, I proved myself to those who kept telling me that I couldn’t do it,” she asserts.
Roka is now 4-1 in mixed martial arts, and she also returned to boxing to join the professional ranks, where she holds a spotless 7-0 record.
The Positron representative has finished four of her mixed martial arts rivals in less than five minutes combined, and in her promotional debut last August, she made two-sport ONE World Champion Stamp Fairtex work hard to defend the belt.
Now the lady from Bhopal eagerly awaits her return, where she plans to showcase what Indian athletes are capable of on the global stage.
“I am feeling extremely good to be here in ONE Championship because this is a very big platform where athletes can prove themselves,” she says.
“There are a lot of Indians who wish to come to ONE and represent our nation. Since I got this chance, I will give my best.
“I feel really very proud that a female Indian fighter has a chance to fight on such a big platform, and against an extremely good fighter. I will showcase my skills to the whole world and prove to other nations that Indian fighters are no less than others.”