On a historic night that featured 16 of the world’s best female martial artists, it was Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat who stole the show.
Last Friday at ONE: EMPOWER, the Indian mixed martial artist went toe-to-toe with #2-ranked contender Meng Bo in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix quarterfinals – and delivered a comeback victory that stunned fans across the globe.
The Chinese dynamo came dangerously close to both knocking out and submitting Phogat in the opening stanza, but the latter somehow survived the round. And after getting a chance to catch her breath, the Indian wrestling sensation came back out and displayed her incredible heart across the remaining 10 minutes.
From the second frame on, Phogat utilized her takedowns, world-class grappling, and assortment of ground strikes to completely turn the match around and leave the Singapore Indoor Stadium with a shocking unanimous decision.
That come-from-behind victory moved “The Indian Tigress” to the semifinal round of the biggest women’s mixed martial arts tournament in history, and fans will now decide whether she faces Itsuki “Android 18” Hirata, “Arale Chan” Seo Hee Ham, or Stamp Fairtex in the final four.
Of course, the Evolve star has proven that she’s ready for anybody. In this exclusive interview, Phogat reflects on her matchup with Meng, reveals how she mounted the comeback, talks about what’s next, and much more.
ONE Championship: Your first match in the Grand Prix was challenging. What are your thoughts on the fight?
Ritu Phogat: I was trailing in the first round, but I made a good comeback in the last two rounds. I am happy to have beaten a top athlete like Meng Bo. She has more experience than me, but I have proven that I am one of the best fighters out there.
When you beat a top fighter, you gain a lot of valuable experience and you gain confidence, too. Meng Bo is a great fighter – she’s the #2-ranked atomweight contender – so after this win, I have learned a lot.
ONE: Let’s talk about that comeback. Meng dropped you with punches and eventually slapped on an armbar. Were you unsure if you would be able to escape that?
RP: I want my opponents to punch me because I tend to attack more after that. And about the armbar – at that time, I felt that the ground game was my biggest strength, so I thought that I could surely get out of that submission move.
ONE: How were you able to turn the match around? What did your coach tell you before the second round?
RP: Before the second round, when I went to the corner, my coach suggested a new game plan, and I was able to execute it to perfection.
My coach asked me to believe in myself and asked me to use more of my wrestling skills. It was time to rule the world. So, in the second and third rounds, I focused more on my wrestling.
ONE: Before the fight, Meng said she was going to knock you out. How do you feel now after proving her wrong?
RP: I am happy with this win. It doesn’t matter what my opponents say before the match because I never take it negatively. I believe in facing these challenges and answering them inside the Circle. I give my 110 percent, and my victory ensures that they get their answers.
ONE: Now that you’ve beaten the #2-ranked contender, do you think you’ll enter the top five?
RP: It doesn’t matter to me much, but I want to face the best fighters in the atomweight division. I don’t care what my ranking is. I consider myself to be the best, and I will prove to the world that I am the best fighter in the atomweight division.
ONE: Since the fans will be voting for your semifinal matchup, is there someone in particular that you want to face?
RP: I am ready for any challenge in the semifinals. I would like to beat the best and reach the final. I want to prove that I am the best.
I still have to improve in lots of things because I will have to face tougher challenges in the upcoming matches. I must make myself better, so I will be training even harder than before.
ONE: Last question: After you beat Meng, who was the first person you talked to?
RP: My father was the first person I talked to. He said I must keep working hard to reach my goal.