Now that Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat has rejoined the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix, she’s eager to send a message to the other seven contenders competing in the biggest women’s mixed martial arts tournament in history.
On Friday, 3 September, the Indian wrestling megastar will face #2-ranked atomweight contender Meng Bo in a quarterfinal bout at ONE: EMPOWER, and she has no intention of taking a backward step again.
Phogat was originally announced as part of the eight-woman bracket in February, but she still opted to compete once more before the Grand Prix commenced.
That decision came back to haunt “The Indian Tigress,” as Bi “Killer Bee” Nguyen defeated her by a narrow split decision in May. As a result, Phogat was also eliminated from the tournament.
Despite her shock, the Indian was determined to find a way back into the Grand Prix. She quickly tightened up her game and then impressed officials by dominating previously ranked atomweight contender “MMA Sister” Lin Heqin last month to reclaim her spot in the bracket.
Now, less than two weeks away from ONE: EMPOWER, Phogat talks about her big victory over Lin, reclaiming her spot in the Grand Prix, her expecations for the matchup with Meng, and much more.
ONE Championship: You had a close match with Bi Nguyen in May, but the judges gave her the nod, and that knocked you out of the Grand Prix. What was going through your head?
RP: When the match was over, I was sure that I would be the winner, so when the referee raised [Nguyen’s] hand, I was shocked by the judges’ decision.
I was distraught because for me, I am the best, and I deserved to be in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix. All I wanted was to get my name back into the Grand Prix – and I was ready to fight any fighter [to do that]. For me, I thought I’d won that match, so I was disappointed with the outcome of that bout.
ONE: After suffering your first career loss, you bounced back in a big way. How did it feel to beat an established veteran like Lin Heqin?
RP: Lin had more experience than me. She had a winning streak of 11 matches and her stand-up is great, too. After that win, I have gained a lot of confidence, and it will help in the Grand Prix.
ONE: Did you know that a win against Lin would put you back in the Grand Prix?
RP: I didn’t think I would get back into the Grand Prix, but I wanted to prove myself. I wanted to show the world that I deserved to be in the Grand Prix. I gave my 100 percent and won.
I was ecstatic after receiving the news [that I was back in the Grand Prix]. It has put more responsibility on my shoulders because a lot of people are expecting a good performance from me, so I want to show them that I deserve to be in the Grand Prix and I am one of the best atomweight athletes out there.
ONE: Lin’s a sanda specialist who has great striking, and your next opponent is a Chinese athlete who is also a sanda specialist. What are your thoughts about this?
RP: I am looking at [Meng] as a new challenge, and I am ready for it. I rate all my opponents equally. Both have more experience than me, so I don’t want to compare them.
Lin has more experience than me, so beating her made me more confident. But I don’t want to be overconfident. My focus is on my training. I am working hard on my game plan and will give my 100 percent inside the Circle.
ONE: You have already beaten two Chinese fighters, and Meng Bo could be the third. Some people have started calling you “Chinese Killer.” What are your thoughts on that?
RP: I am flattered to hear such praises, but I don’t care if my opponent is from China or any other country. She is another huge challenge in front of me that I must face.
Meng is a great striker and has won lots of matches by knockout, so I am ready for that already. She will face a different “The Indian Tigress” from [what people have seen] before.
ONE: What do you think Meng’s weaknesses are?
RP: She is a great fighter, and I respect her a lot. I don’t want to say anything about her weaknesses, but I have developed a game plan for her, which you will get to see inside the Circle. All I want to say is that my biggest strength is my wrestling, and it will be her biggest weakness.
ONE: How do you want to win this match?
RP: I want to finish this match as soon as possible, and I would look to do it in a different way. I want to finish her in a way that other fighters in the Grand Prix take note of.
ONE: Lastly, what do you want to prove in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix?
RP: I want to win all the matches of the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix and show the world that Indian fighters can be the best. Also, I want to prove that I am one of the best fighters in the atomweight division.
Right now, my focus is on Meng Bo, I want to overcome this challenge first. After that, whatever challenges I will have to face to win the [Grand Prix] belt, I will be ready.