India’s Puja “The Cyclone” Tomar is doing everything in her power to drive mixed martial arts forward in her home nation.
Despite the country’s vast size and population, and the sport’s incredible growth, there are still only a handful of elite professionals among the population who can compete on the global stage, and women make up a minority of that number.
However, the five-time national wushu champion – who faces Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol on the main card of ONE: ETERNAL GLORY this Saturday, 19 January – is pushing against the tide as she hopes to raise the profile and level of the sport.
Ahead of her last contest in The Home Of Martial Arts – her second overall – “The Cyclone” was offered sponsorship for two weeks of training at the elite Evolve facility.
Even such a short time among the world-class competitors in Singapore opened he eyes to so many new techniques and helped improve her abilities by leaps and bounds.
“I am very thankful. I learned a lot and improved a lot,” reveals the 25-year-old.
“I live in India, and I face many issues regarding proper mixed martial arts training
“I can not get high-level training like other female fighters who live in China, Thailand, and Singapore.”
Her experience also made her realize how much the infrastructure needs improvement in her homeland – as well as the way it is perceived.
Tomar got off to a blistering as a mixed martial arts professional as she won three of her first four bouts by knockout, but wushu stylist admits that there are those out there who do not support her or respect her goals.
The naysayers make her tough road even more arduous, but she is not deterred.
“People criticize me a lot rather than support me, but I am the kind of girl who never gave up in my entire life,” she asserts.
“It’s a story I can tell my kids in future – that their mom is a warrior, but I am desperate to win so I can raise my head high. I will keep training hard, and one day I will succeed.”
Fighting the tide is not new to the small-town girl who left Budhana to chase her dreams of being a successful martial artist at a young age.
Some of her family thought she was destined to fail, but Tomar became a huge success in wushu and earned many accolades.
The strength to face her doubters and prove them wrong set her in good stead to keep up her current battle, which is to gain acceptance for women’s mixed martial artists, and build more awareness for the sport in general.
“The hardship gave me amazing powers,” 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.”
Tomar hopes her courage in the face of the naysayers will inspire other young Indian girls to be confident and defy their detractors as they pursue their dreams.
She wants to be the role model they can look to for encouragement now, and in the years to come.
“100 percent, I want to be a role model to young athletes, not only in India, but around the world. Ups and downs come – just don’t give up, and bounce back.
“It was a hard thing [to forge this path], but I just want to tell them to keep working hard. Your day will also come, and you can compete in ONE.”
Tomar estimates that the number of active women’s mixed martial arts professionals in India barely reaches double figures, but this could change if she can find success on the global stage for martial arts.
Aspiring competitors just need the right inspiration – just like “The Cyclone” found hers in ONE Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee.
“Angela Lee is my biggest motivation. She worked so hard and achieved such things at a very early age, which inspires me a lot,” Tomar adds.
The hard-working Indian will look to give it her all against Lumban Gaol at the Istora Sanayan in Jakarta, Indonesia this weekend.
Registering her first victory in the world’s largest martial arts organization would be a personal success, but also a springboard for others to join her on the journey.