Indian martial arts star Puja “The Cyclone” Tomar (3-3) returns to the ONE Championship cage on Saturday, 19 January for the biggest bout of her young career.
The four-time national wushu champion has faced some of the elite women in The Home Of Martial Arts already, and this trend will continue when she takes on local favorite Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol on the main card of ONE: ETERNAL GLORY in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The 25-year-old has the chance to showcase her skills to a global audience, and she has had to work hard to get here in a country where female representatives in combat sports are still somewhat rare.
Here is how Tomar battled her way to the top.
Little Town, Big Dreams
Tomar was born in a small town called Budhana in northern India. Her parents were farmers in a region that is driven by agriculture. Tragically for the wushu stylist and her two older sisters, their father died when she was just 7.
The youngster attended school, but she also needed to help out on the family’s farm, and she committed much of her time to working the fields.
“I was an active child, and I used to help my mother with the farming,” says Tomar.
“I was an average student, but I had lots of friends. I liked to do sports when I had the time.”
She always had ambitions that were bigger than her immediate surroundings. Like most of the martial artists in ONE, she had the drive to pursue something great.
“I always wanted to achieve something big in my life. From childhood, I only wanted to be a famous sports player,” says “The Cyclone.”
“There wasn’t much opportunity for a bright future [in Budhana], especially for a girl, and going into sports was a big task.”
Martial Arts On Her Doorstep
Martial arts would give Tomar a ticket out of the small town, and she began to train after she was first exposed to combat literally on her doorstep, as she would watch local groups training outside her home.
“There were some people who used to practice in front of my house. I used to stand there and watch them for hours,” Tomar recalls.
Her training was informal at first. The Crossfit Fitness Academy representative watched other students practice wushu and boxing, and then tried to copy what she saw.
When she got the opportunity, Tomar began wushu in earnest, and she had an aptitude for the striking art. She began to compete, and win, and realized the sport could help her bring in extra income for her family.
But Tomar could not realize her potential and take her career forward in her hometown, so she left her family to move to Bhopal, where she lived in dormitories with other athletes.
This sacrifice led her to four national wushu championships before mixed martial arts caught her eye – both competitively, and financially.
“I liked it because it is a complete game,” she explains, but her family was not as convinced.
“They thought it was dangerous and I’d get hurt, and that there was no future.”
However, her success started to change their mind. “The Cyclone” had an explosive start to her career, as she scored two knockout victories in a combined 45 seconds.
She also met ONE star Rajinder Singh Meena who told her all about his career in the world’s largest martial arts organization, and her third KO brought her to The Home Of Martial Arts – as well as acceptance from her loved ones.
“After seeing ONE Championship, my family’s mentality started to change,” Tomar says.
Realizing Her Father’s Dream
When Tomar’s father died, she did not only lose a parent, she lost one of the people who recognized her goals and supported them.
“My father was also a big motivation for me as he was an athlete,” she explains.
“It was the most difficult part of my life when he died. I felt alone and wondered how I would reach my dreams, and my father’s dreams.”
As she grew older and her penchant for martial arts grew stronger, her extended family discredited her efforts.
“They used to say, ‘She is a girl, she will hurt herself. Who will marry her?’ All this type of talk.”
Thankfully, her closest family members were always supportive of her ambition, and “The Cyclone” continued to follow her dream.
With her father always in her mind, she used any negativity as fuel for her fire on her path to success.
“My mother and my eldest sister were the pillars to my building,” she says.
“I decided to let people say whatever they wanted. It just made me practice harder to show them that girls can do martial arts and they don’t depend on men.
“It gave me amazing powers – my nerves got stronger. I wanted to prove to the world that I could achieve my dream, and for my father too.”
Earning Her Shot On The Global Stage
Tomar’s motivation and work ethic saw her rise through the ranks in wushu. She built a 67-5 record and won four national titles.
Her transition to the cage was seamless, and she was thrilled to make her professional mixed martial arts debut in India’s leading promotion, Super Fight League, in 2013.
Her three knockout wins in her homeland earned her the chance to feature on the global stage for martial arts in 2017, and an opportunity to train with some of the world’s top athletes.
“I felt successful when I got the ONE Championship contract,” Tomar states.
“I was very thankful to get a sponsorship for two weeks of training from the world’s top gym, Evolve, and learned a lot.”
Back in India, she looks to Meena, and fellow ONE athlete Himanshu Kaushik to help her along the way, in the hope that they can raise awareness of their sport and bring it to prominence.
“The Cyclone’s” continued development and her first ONE victory against Lumban Gaol will be a step in the right direction. With an unquestionable will to win driving her, she hopes to forge a path for others.
“I still believe I am going to raise my country’s name in front of the world, and show that Indian female mixed martial arts fighters are the real deal,” she adds.