Puja “The Cyclone” Tomar has an enormous goal.
The 26-year-old genuinely wants to elevate the sport of mixed martial arts to new heights in her native India, and she believes defeating two-sport ONE World Champion Stamp Fairtex at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW this coming Friday, 10 January, could help her accomplish that.
For “The Cyclone,” this is a mission that is very dear to her heart. As the sport continues to become more and more popular in her nation, it could inspire more people to train and even open gyms all throughout the country.
That would be a dream come true for the Indian, who left home during her adolescence to get the best martial arts training in her region.
Tomar, who grew up in a small town called Budhana in northern India, was passionate about martial arts from an early age.
However, there were very few training opportunities available for the rising star in her hometown.
“I was an active child, and I used to help my mother with farming. I liked to do sports when I had the time. I used to see wushu and boxing, and I tried to do it like the athletes,” she recalls.
“At the front of my house, there were some people who used to practice there. I used to stand there and watch them for hours.”
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She tried to copy what she saw, and also made use of the limited facilities in the local area. But by the age of 12, Tomar felt like she had reached her potential in Budhana, and the only way she could progress was to relocate to a bigger city that provided better opportunities.
“In my childhood, I learned karate in my school, but I noticed you cannot hit with hard punches in it,” she explains.
“I knew I could do better than that, so I told my mom, ‘I want to go elsewhere to become a better athlete. I will work really hard, so please let me go.’
“I was 12 years old when I left my home and went to Meerut to become a better athlete. My mom and sisters supported me a lot in this decision.”
Meerut was the closest city. It was only around 45 kilometers away, but it offered much more in terms of martial arts instruction. And, at age 12, it was still a big step for the young Tomar.
“I saw that Meerut Stadium’s training was really good and people worked hard, so I enrolled there for wushu,” she adds.
“When I reached Meerut, I was unsure about the life ahead and I was not ready. But I thought about the financial conditions at home, and I decided to concentrate on my training and kept pushing ahead.”
Tomar progressed rapidly with the right guidance, along with her own enthusiasm and work ethic. She quickly made an impact on the national wushu circuit, and her ambition grew even further.
However, “The Cyclone” felt like she still relied too much on her physical attributes, and that her skills needed to improve if she was going to reach the top of her sport.
“When I played wushu at the junior and sub-junior levels, there was no technique. I only had power, which I used to win,” she continues.
“I won my first medal when I was 12 years old in the sub-junior national level. My sister searched on the internet [and found] that if someone is a national medalist, they can go and stay in Bhopal, and the government will pay for the food and accommodations.
“After that, due to my sister and maternal uncle’s efforts, I went to Bhopal to join the Sports Authority of India.”
Not everybody was supportive of Tomar’s decision, but fortunately, her mother backed her all the way. She also told her daughter to pursue her dreams and she, herself, would deal with the negative comments.
“I still remember [the day I left] because all my relatives visited our home and commented that I won’t get to compete in the Olympics, and it was better to stay at home,” the Indian martial artist reveals.
“My mom kept crying and fighting them. She told me, ‘You need to go, I will handle them.’”
It was her mother’s faith that kept her going through the early stages of her move 800 kilometers south to Bhopal.
Tomar was motivated to repay that unyielding belief, and she did so by working hard every day — above and beyond her peers.
“In the beginning, I had to face a lot of difficulties, but I had determination. My mother had sent me here, so I would do something for her and not give up,” she continues.
“Everybody used to come in the room after training in the morning and evening, but I never used to sleep and would go running in the afternoon. I used to feel that I had very little time, and I had to do something.”
This translated to success in wushu, as “The Cyclone” won multiple medals at the national level and even represented India in the Wushu World Championships.
Also, it led her to make the switch to mixed martial arts, a career she could only have dreamed of as a young girl in a rural town.
Tomar now competes on the global stage, in front of thousands in packed arenas and millions watching around the world. She left her family and home behind at a young age, and that decision has paid off.
A win inside the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday would elevate her career and popularity to an even higher level. It would also be a reward for her mom’s undying support and her own sacrifice.
“My mother motivates me to train harder,” she says. “And now, all of my family members want me to work harder and not to give up this sport.”