Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat had a breakthrough 2020 in ONE Championship.
The wrestling icon continued her phenomenal transition to mixed martial arts and looked absolutely flawless in the Circle.
First, she dominated Chinese Mixed Martial Arts Champion “Miss Red” Wu Chiao Chen en route to a unanimous decision victory in February, and then she finished Kun Khmer World Champion Nou Srey Pov via second-round TKO in October.
Now, with 2020 in the books, Phogat is looking toward an exciting 2021 with the hope of becoming India’s first Mixed Martial Arts World Champion.
In this exclusive interview, the 26-year-old Singapore-based Indian recaps her extraordinary year, talks about the future, sends a fiery message to her fellow atomweights, and much more.
ONE Championship: How do you view your 2020 in terms of your performance in the Circle?
Ritu Phogat: The year 2020 was really good for me. I fought three back-to-back matches, and I think I improved in all of them.
My first match of 2020 went on for three rounds, my second match for two rounds, and just recently, my last match was over in the first round, so I think it was a good improvement. Last year taught me a lot, and I am feeling good about it. It was a great year for me.
I keep wondering that if there was no lockdown, I could have fought one more time. Regardless, it was a successful year for me.
ONE: Your first match in 2020 was against Wu Chiao Chen, and it was the longest match of your career. What are your thoughts about it?
RP: I learn something from every match. My striking was below par in that match. My ground control was not great either, but I have improved a lot since then.
ONE: Your parents were present for that match, and it was the first time they ever saw you compete in mixed martial arts live. How did that feel?
RP: It feels really great when your family supports you. My mother and father coming down to Singapore to watch my match live was a memorable experience. Before this, my father had never watched any of my wrestling matches live. This was the first time that he was present.
Indian wrestling superstar Ritu Phogat ???????? smothers Wu Chiao Chen en route to a DOMINANT unanimous decision victory!????: How to watch ???? http://bit.ly/KOTJWatch????: Watch on the ONE Super App ???? bit.ly/ONESuperApp????: Shop official merchandise ???? bit.ly/ONECShop
Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, February 28, 2020
ONE: How about the match against Nou Srey Pov?
RP: I was really excited for this match. I started aggressively and it showed in the Circle, too.
ONE: You faced the toughest test of your career head-on in Jomary Torres, whom you defeated via first-round TKO. Tell us your strategy for that fight.
RP: I really wanted to end the match with perfection. I started with striking, but once she started attacking me, it got easier for me to go for a takedown. I controlled the match to perfection and finished the contest.
It was a really tough challenge because she is a great fighter, but she had no chance. Maybe it was just my day. I had worked hard for this, and I trusted my effort. I am happy that I managed to implement that.
ONE: Is there anyone in particular that you want to fight next?
RP: I know that I will be against the top-level fighters in 2021. I want to get ready for it by working on my striking and ground game. Whenever I face these top-level athletes, I want to be ready.
ONE: Overall, how challenging was 2020 for you? How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect you?
RP: Living in a foreign country away from my family and during the lockdown was really challenging for me. It was tougher than facing any opponent. I tried to be mentally strong to fight this.
The biggest thing that I missed was my sister’s wedding. I had made lots of plans for her wedding, but unfortunately, I could not attend her big day. As soon as things are back to normal, I would like to go back to India to visit my family.
ONE: Martial arts aside, what is the most important lesson you learned last year?
RP: The year 2020 taught me that we have to be mentally strong. Whatever the circumstances may be, we should not lose hope and we should never back down.
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ONE: Looking ahead, what goals have you set for 2021?
RP: My goal for 2021 is to be part of the ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix. When [the matchmakers] announce the eight names for the tournament, I hope my name is among them.
My coach and I are working hard every day, and I am steadily improving my skills. I’ll be taking part in every match to remain undefeated, and I wish that my [perfect] record is never broken.
ONE: Finally, do you have a message for your fellow atomweights?
RP: Fans call me by the name of “The Indian Tigress.” I would like to say that the tigress has arrived and the atomweight division needs to be wary of me.
Read more: The Top 5 Breakthrough Fighters Of 2020