Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat is ready to make her professional mixed martial arts debut at ONE: AGE OF DRAGONS set for the Cadillac Arena in Beijing, China on 16 November. She takes on fellow ONE Championship newcomer “Captain Marvel” Nam Hee Kim of South Korea.
Looking to inspire her Indian countrymen, Phogat wants to leave a lasting impression, and make a statement in her new sport.
“I do not think martial arts is as popular in India,” Phogat said.
“People think it is something different. Very few people understand martial arts in India. As I started competing in this sport, people will know more about it. I think their understanding of it will change.”
A Commonwealth Wrestling Gold Medalist, Phogat comes from a renowned wrestling family.
Her father is Mahavir Singh Phogat, a legendary wrestling coach having trained several of her family members and leading them to the highest levels of the sport. Their family was the subject of the 2016 Indian blockbuster biopic “Dangal.”
Phogat began her own training at the tender age of 8 under the guidance of her father. A few years later, she dropped out of school to focus solely on her wrestling career.
“I wanted to do something different, but I did not know where to find a training center for martial arts in India,” she said.
“That is why I started wrestling. Then, when I got an offer to start training in martial arts, I asked my dad and my sisters about it. Because I was interested in it, they supported me.”
“My dad said, ‘If you have an interest in this, then do it.’ Without his support, I could not be here. I have his full support.”
Phogat won three Indian national championships in wrestling before winning the gold medal at the 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in Singapore. Then she won a Silver medal at the prestigious World Under-23 Wrestling Championships in Poland the year after, to become the first female Indian wrestler to do so in the process.
Now she embarks on a new journey to conquer a new mountain. If she can make a serious run at the mixed martial arts world title, Phogat will have an entire nation backing her.
“I want to be the World Champion that will make history because no one from India has earned the World Championship,” Phogat said.
“I want to get that belt and make my dad proud. I have been watching martial arts since the start and I like it.”