Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat had one thing on her mind when she swapped wrestling for mixed martial arts – ONE Championship gold.
The Indian phenom will take another step toward that goal if she can defeat Stamp Fairtex in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix Championship Final, which is set as the co-main event of ONE: WINTER WARRIORS this Friday, 3 December.
A victory over the former ONE Atomweight Muay Thai and Kickboxing World Champion at the Singapore Indoor Stadium would earn Phogat the chance to face “Unstoppable” Angela Lee for her ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title in 2022.
While many thought the wrestling sensation had potential, few predicted her quick ascension to the upper echelon of her new sport. However, “The Indian Tigress” believes she has been preparing her whole life for this opportunity.
“We were taught from childhood to fight to win – to give 100 percent,” Phogat says of her upbringing. “Defeat was never on our mind. It was like we could never lose.”
Phogat learned these principles as a member of her famous Indian wrestling family. In fact, their lives were depicted in the record-breaking movie “Dangal,” and the reality was just as interesting.
Under the tutelage of her father, Mahavir Singh Phogat, the Haryana-born fighter followed in the footsteps of her pioneering older sisters – Geeta and Babita – and earned competitive success, culminating in gold at the 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship and silver in the World Under-23 Wrestling Championships a year later.
“The Indian Tigress” moved to Singapore in 2019 to commit herself full-time to mixed martial arts training at Evolve MMA, but she believes her background in wrestling has given her the best possible foundation to spring from.
“[Being] a wrestler means there is a benefit in mixed martial arts. If you see the top 10 fighters in mixed martial arts, seven of them have a wrestling background,” she says.
In addition to her wrestling base, Phogat credits her work ethic and mindset with allowing her to adapt to her demanding schedule.
“From childhood, it was taught that I had to go there and give my best and not wait for [my opponent],” she adds.
“In the [Circle], I do not give any chance to my opponents – I just go and do my thing.”
Her evolution has been impressive, and the results speak for themselves. Despite Phogat’s roller-coaster journey to the Grand Prix final, she’s compiled a 7-1 record and became the #4-ranked atomweight contender in just two years.
Phogat was clearly ready for the harsh demands of mixed martial arts training and competition. However, she was also humble enough to know her constraints and accept that she had to learn a whole array of new skills.
The 27-year-old continues to work diligently on different fighting disciplines with her coaches, and she made significant strides in every area to achieve rapid gains on the global stage.
“I had my physical fitness from the beginning. So, for mixed martial arts, I learned new techniques. Every day, I train in everything – Muay Thai, BJJ, boxing. Every day, I am working hard,” she says.
“And every day, the improvement is visible. And I am getting compliments from the coaches, so I am quite happy about the developments that are happening in me.
“It’s the unlearning and relearning of the little nuances that have kept me on the go, enabling me to become a better version of myself with every passing day.”
That said, she will always be a wrestler at heart. Until the day comes that her opponents effectively counter her expertise, Phogat will continue to use her strongest asset to secure victory.
When Phogat was hurt by early tournament favorite Meng Bo in their quarterfinal bout at ONE: EMPOWER this past September, her heart helped her to survive the onslaught. However, it was her grappling instincts that led her to a come-from-behind win.
Wrestling is built into every fiber of her anatomy, and it will take a special ability to stop it – something she believes Stamp does not possess.
“If I have just one skill, and I am always winning with it, then why would I change that skill? The day I feel that someone can counter my wrestling, I will think about what I can try next,” she says.
“As my MMA idol Khabib Nurmagomedov once said, ‘My style is not like anyone else’s. I am not a typical wrestler.’ I would offer a similar response in this context, as Stamp Fairtex has never faced an opponent with my wrestling credentials and pedigree.
“I want to show everyone, through my work, that I am the best. Until now, I have proved that, and I will show it in the final also.”
Read more: 5 Reasons To Watch ONE: WINTER WARRIORS