There’s a fast rising Indian contingent in the world’s largest martial arts organization today. Led by a handful of amazing athletes, Indian fighters in ONE Championship are quickly carving out their path to greatness.
As such, MMA fans in India have much to be happy about. The country is well-represented on the global stage of competition.
If you’re new to ONE and are keen to discover the top Indian martial arts talent the promotion has to offer, look no further. These athletes are all primed for a remarkable 2021. Here are five of the best Indian ONE Championship athletes to keep an eye out for this year.
1) Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat
Arguably the most popular among the group, the woman known as “The Indian Tigress” is certainly ready to take 2021 by the reins and ride off into superstardom. Indian wrestling icon Ritu Phogat, of the famed Phogat wrestling clan, is a perfect 4-0 so far since making the transition to a mixed martial arts career in 2019.
Phogat has finished three out of four opponents so far in the Circle, and continues to get better with each fight. She currently trains out of Evolve MMA in Singapore, honing her striking skills with world champions from boxing and Muay Thai. As Phogat becomes more adept with her hands and feet, she grows more dangerous by the day.
Phogat is looking to book a spot in the highly-anticipated ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix, slated to begin at some point this year. The tournament winner will reportedly earn a shot at reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee. It could be Phogat’s ticket to ONE Championship gold.
2) Arjan “Singh” Bhullar
Former UFC heavyweight Arjan “Singh” Bhullar of Punjab may have been raised in Canada, but he is genuinely Indian at heart. The hulkish 250-lb. sensation made his ONE Championship debut in 2019 with a thorough unanimous decision victory over former world title challenger Mauro Cerilli. The win was so impressive, it earned Bhullar an immediate crack at the ONE Heavyweight World Championship.
However, due to COVID-19 and the logistical restrictions in hosting live sporting events that come with it, the bout against reigning heavyweight king Brandon “The Truth” Vera has yet to be finalized. Still, Bhullar is expected to face Vera some time this year.
If he beats the Filipino-American veteran soundly, Bhullar will sit atop a suddenly very deep heavyweight division, with big names like Amir Aliakbari, Tom DeBlass, and Marcus Almeida nipping at his heels.
The division is ripe for the taking for Bhullar. But he has to get past the dominant Vera first, which is certainly no easy task.
3) Roshan Mainam
Four-time Delhi State Wrestling Champion and a member of Guru Hanuman Akhara, India’s oldest and most prestigious wrestling camp, Roshan Mainam is quickly making a name for himself inside the ONE Circle. The Manipur native is teammates with Phogat out of Evolve MMA in Singapore, so you already know the quality of training Mainam gets with Asia’s premier martial arts outfit.
Mainam just recently turned pro in 2016, and has since amassed an impressive collection of victories, with all wins coming by finish. He joined ONE Championship in 2019, winning two straight, both by crafty submission.
Mainam competes in a shark tank of a bantamweight division, with names like reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes, John Lineker, and former ONE World Champion Kevin Belingon lurking the waters. If he can keep winning emphatically, though, it may not be long until Mainam joins the world title conversation.
4) Gurdarshan “St. Lion” Mangat
Learning his craft from all-time great Bibiano Fernandes, the reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion himself, Mangat is primed for an impressive return to action. Having won five of his last six contests, “St. Lion” has shown well-rounded skills in the ONE Circle.
Mangat joined ONE Championship in 2019, taking home two resounding victories — a first-round knockout over former world title challenger Toni “Dynamite” Tauru, and a decision win over Abro Fernandes. He may have succumbed to top-ranked Reece McLaren in his most recent bout, but Mangat has vowed to come back stronger than ever in his return.
At 33 years of age, “St. Lion” has certainly been around the block. With a 15-3 professional record, he’s seen it all inside the cage. However, he has both the talent and the experience to make a solid run at the world title at this stage in his career. Look for Mangat to make a statement in 2021, as soon as he’s called on to enter the Circle.
5) Rahul “The Kerala Krusher” Raju
Lightweight veteran Rahul Raju rounds out this list. The man known as “The Kerala Krusher” is a staple in one of ONE Championship’s deepest and most talented divisions.
The former Ultimate Satira Champion originally from Kerala, moved to Singapore to further his studies. While there, however, Raju picked up mixed martial arts and soon decided to make a career out of it.
Raju started training at Juggernaut Fight Club in 2013, and not long after competed in various martial arts disciplines as an amateur before moving his focus to competing professionally in MMA.
Although things haven’t exactly gone to plan for Raju as of late, having won only two of his last six contests, the veteran is optimistic that he can turn his career around in 2021 with a few big wins. Despite his recent setbacks, however, Raju has put up solid resistance against the promotion’s most dangerous fighters.