Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat is chasing two goals on one journey.
First, she wants to become the best women’s atomweight mixed martial artist in the world. Second – and perhaps more important to her – she wants to inspire young women, especially in her native India, to chase their own dreams.
The #4-ranked atomweight contender will continue pushing forward when she faces #5-ranked strawweight Jenelyn Olsim in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix semifinals at ONE: NEXTGEN this Friday, 29 October.
Fighting For A Greater Cause
Ever since she transformed herself from an Indian Wrestling Champion into a mixed martial artist in 2019, Phogat has fought to show the next generation of women that they can pursue the path they want, whether society deems that path acceptable or not.
“People don’t give much importance to girls in this sport,” she says.
“I want girls to have the freedom to work in any field. I try to give my best every time because lots of young girls are watching me. If I can inspire them with my performance, that’s a great feeling.”
With that said, Phogat’s been nothing short of inspirational during her time with ONE Championship. In just two years, she’s gone from a newcomer to defeating some of the atomweight division’s top fighters.
Each of those victories has grown her fan base, which means she’s been able to get her message out to more young women. But sometimes, it’s the losses that provide the most valuable lessons.
The Lower The Lows, The Higher The Highs
Phogat recently learned that life won’t always align with her vision and that hardship is a big part of the journey toward her goals.
This past May, Bi “Killer Bee” Nguyen snatched a split decision win away from the Indian, initially eliminating her from the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix. But because it was such a close fight, Phogat was given a chance to earn back her spot in the historic tournament.
“Lots of youngsters are now looking to pursue their careers in MMA. I want to pave the way for their success in this sport,” she recalls of her mindset. “Of course, this is a huge responsibility on my shoulders. With hard work and dedication, I will handle it to the best of my abilities.”
Ultimately, that way of thinking paid off. Phogat dominated Lin from bell to bell, earned a convincing unanimous decision victory, and rejoined the Grand Prix bracket as a result.
However, many critics still thought that Phogat should not have been invited back.
They said she was too green. They said she wasn’t skilled enough. They said – despite “The Indian Tigress” racking up a 5-1 record in just 20 months – that she wouldn’t make it past the quarterfinals.
Phogat proved them all wrong.
The ‘Chinese Killer’
It was a fight in which most pundits favored Meng – for good reason. The Chinese superstar was riding a seven-bout winning streak and had almost four times the amount of career fights as Phogat on her resume.
In the first round, Meng pummeled the Indian, nearly submitting and knocking her out, and she looked primed to advance with ease.
But somehow, “The Indian Tigress” summoned the will to overcome those relentless attacks and survived the seemingly eternal five-minute frame.
She then dominated Meng across the next two rounds in one of the most inspiring comebacks ever witnessed inside the Circle. The win – her third over a Chinese opponent – earned her the nickname “The Chinese Killer.”
The performance instantly gained Phogat the respect of critics, catapulted her into the top-five atomweight rankings, and moved her into the semifinals. But more than that, the triumph was emphatic proof of what she desires to teach young women.
“If you think you can win, you will win. If you don’t, you will lose,” Phogat says. “I am working hard every day, and I try to give my best inside the Circle. This kind of hard work and [these] good performances keep me motivated to keep going.”
Despite elevating her status in the atomweight division, the India native isn’t getting too far ahead of herself. Instead, she knows there’s more hard work waiting for her.
“I don’t consider myself to be one of the top fighters in the world,” she says. “But the day I win the belt, I will surely be one of them. I want to beat all the top contenders in the atomweight division, and I am working hard to achieve that. Once I do this, I can call myself the best.”
Enter Jenelyn Olsim
Standing in the way of Phogat’s next step is Olsim. The dangerous Filipina striker is ranked #4 in the women’s strawweight division, which makes her even more of a threat to the lighter atomweights.
Moreover, Olsim has won both of her ONE Championship matchups, pushing her young career record to 5-2. She took out Maira Mazar by third-round guillotine choke in March and then defeated Nguyen five months later by unanimous decision.
Despite the growing resume that her opponent will bring to the Circle, Phogat has gone on record to warn all future foes that she’ll do whatever it takes to win and further her mission of inspiring the next generation.
But to say that Phogat is the only one inspiring others wouldn’t be accurate. In fact, she had the favor returned after her comeback win over Meng.
ONE Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee praised Phogat’s remarkable win, and although the two would face each other should “The Indian Tigress” win the Grand Prix, the rising contender soaked up the reigning queen’s remarks.
“Hearing such praises from champions like her makes me happy and motivates me to keep going,” Phogat says.
A Dream Chaser
Although fighting is difficult, outcomes in the ONE Circle are simple – you either win or you lose.
But what those wins and losses stand for isn’t so simple. It’s what keeps athletes up at night, pushing themselves in the gym, and putting themselves out there for all to see.
And although a victory isn’t guaranteed for Phogat on Friday, there is one thing the Indian does promise to all those young girls who’ll be watching when she steps into the Circle against Olsim.
“If you are determined to achieve something, then you will definitely get it. Dreams don’t come true overnight. I have worked hard for four years now, and I have yet to achieve my goal,” she says.
“Only perseverance can make our dreams come true.”