Ever since it was announced that Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat would be competing in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix, she’s been labeled an underdog, tagged as unworthy, and accused of being too inexperienced.
“Hirata will be a tough challenge,” Phogat says.
“She’s strong and she has good wrestling skills, so getting takedowns against her won’t be easy. It’s tougher to take down a grappler than a striker, so it won’t be easy to beat her.”
The 27-year-old is used to things being far from simple inside the Circle, especially after drawing Meng in the quarterfinals.
During the first round of their September clash, the former #2-ranked atomweight contender nearly knocked out and submitted her.
But, showing resilience, “The Indian Tigress” managed to keep her wits about her, survive the frame, and grind out a unanimous decision win. And although fans around the world were watching in awe, newly named #4-ranked Phogat wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“I believed that I would make a comeback in that match. At that time, I was just thinking about proving all of [the doubters] wrong, and I succeeded in doing so,” the Singapore-based Indian says.
“I feel great after reaching the Grand Prix semifinals, and the victory against Meng has boosted my confidence too. This self-confidence will help in the upcoming fights.”
The come-from-behind win was so impressive, even ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee – who will defend her strap against the Grand Prix winner in 2022 – praised the Indian’s determination.
Now, Phogat will try to use the atomweight queen’s remarks and her newfound confidence to power through to a win against Hirata, who she believes will be just as dangerous as Meng – but for different reasons.
While Meng is a dynamic mixed martial artist, Hirata is exceptional in judo, which has helped the Japanese athlete remain undefeated as a professional. That said, “The Indian Tigress” has come up with a specific game plan for her upcoming foe.
“You attack the legs more in wrestling, while in Judo, the upper body is targeted. I will be able to counter Hirata’s upper body attacks with different kinds of strikes. So, my wrestling will prevail over her judo skills,” Phogat says.
“She uses her upper body strength for the takedown and brings her opponents to the ground. She also has just one skill, but my game is better than hers.”
Hirata, having seen her upcoming rival’s tremendous wrestling skills, has gone on record to say the same thing about Phogat.
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But “The Indian Tigress” is quick to point out that Hirata will be in for a shock if she expects the Evolve product to resemble anything she’s seen in past fights.
“It’ll be a mistake to count me out because you are going to see a different Ritu Phogat in every match,” she says.
And even if she has to fall back on her biggest strength, the 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship gold medalist wants Hirata to know that her grappling skills go unmatched in the division.
“If [Hirata] says that I can win only one way, then she should remember that I am the best at that,” the Indian states. “I don’t think anyone in the atomweight category can match my wrestling skills.”
Moreover, to say that Phogat is looking to use her wrestling to secure the victory and make it to the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix Championship Final would only be a half-truth. Ultimately, the India native believes anything is possible in this battle.
“If I get an opportunity, I will try to finish the fight with a knockout,” she continues.
“I want to change people’s opinion that Ritu Phogat is only good at wrestling. I would like to win this fight in a different way so that my opponent in the final knows that I can win in different ways.”
As a reminder of the importance of her upcoming semifinal bout with Hirata, Phogat has set her phone’s wallpaper to an image of the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix Title.
Every time she looks at her mobile device, the silver belt reminds her of everything she’s had to sacrifice to get where she is – time away from her family, living in a foreign country, and dedicating her life to becoming a better mixed martial artist.
For “The Indian Tigress,” all the sacrifices are worth the effort, as she knows she has a strong support system behind her. And it’s that support that’ll push her forward when she attempts to overcome another opponent that she’s not supposed to beat in a tournament she was never supposed to take part in.
“I am here only because of the support of my fans,” Phogat says. “Please keep showering me with your love and support. I will soon win the silver and golden belts.”