As a young girl, Puja “The Cyclone” Tomar struggled to find many people to support her martial arts dreams, but her late father, Ram Kumar Tomar, always believed in her.
As she prepares for her next ONE Championship assignment against Bi “Killer Bee” Nguyen at ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, this Friday, 6 September, she is still motivated to succeed by his words of encouragement.
“He used to say, ‘Whatever the conditions, never give up. I am always with you.’ Whenever I feel down, I just close my eyes and I remember his words,” Tomar reveals.
“Today, he is not with me [physically], but his memories are always with me.”
The 25-year-old grew up in a small agricultural town called Budhana in Northern India where her father was a farmer. Outside of his daily toil in the fields, he was passionate about sports, and that was something he wanted to pass on to his children.
He had to call time on his own athletic career to support them, but he hoped the sacrifice he had made would allow them to chase their goals in the future.
“My father was a sprinter and he won many medals, but he struggled a lot in his life. Due to the family’s economic conditions, he couldn’t continue,” says Tomar.
“He saw his dream in me. I am an athlete’s daughter, his blood flows in me – sport is in my blood.”
Tomar lost her father when she was just 7 years old, but he had a profound effect on her outlook on life. At first, she suffered without his backing but, in time, “The Cyclone’s” determination to succeed was strengthened by his memory.
She had the support of her mother and sister but, in her hometown, most people were negative about her aspirations in martial arts, so “The Cyclone” made the big decision to move to Bhopal to pursue her wushu career.
With a single-track mind and her father’s spirit burning inside of her, the gamble paid off as she earned four national wushu championships.
“The most difficult part of my life was when my father died. I felt alone and thought, ‘How will I reach my dreams in my [sport], and my father’s dream?’” she recalls.
“My other relatives especially were against [martial arts]. They used to say, ‘She is a girl, she will hurt herself. Who will marry her?’ and all this type of talk.
“This hardship gave me amazing powers. My nerve got stronger, and whenever I was tired of training, I looked back at what people would say. I wanted to prove to the world that I could achieve my dream, for my father too.”
Tomar turned to mixed martial arts, and her career got off to a flying start in India. After she achieved her first three wins by knockout, she signed for the world’s largest martial arts organization, and her extended family began to recognize her potential.
She got her first ONE victory over highly-regarded contender Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol in January and established herself as a talent to watch in the women’s atomweight mixed martial arts ranks.
Now she believes she can continue to make her father proud by doing the same in ONE Super Series with a win in her first Muay Thai bout against Nguyen at the Phu Tho Indoor Stadium.
“I am super confident. I really enjoyed my first win in ONE, and I want to stay on the winning track,” says “The Cyclone.”
“I will honor my father by becoming World Champion.”