Abhishek Paul
New Delhi

Ritu Phogat.(ONE)



Fighting her second Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bout in just over a month meant Ritu Phogat had to dig deep into her energy reserves to tackle Jomary Torres on Friday. The Filipino fighter is two years younger to the 26-year-old Indian, but had fought eight bouts to Ritu’s three.

That challenge didn’t matter to the youngest daughter of the Phogat household, famous for giving India top wrestlers including Gita, Babita and Vinesh. The contest had to be stopped by the referee three minutes, 55 seconds into the first round as Ritu forced a Technical Knock Out (TKO) in the ONE Championship atomweight (52.2kg) match. Ritu stretched her career record to 4-0.

Ritu has been living in Singapore during the lock down and missed her sister Sangita’s marriage with fellow wrestler Bajrang Punia on November 26 as she was preparing for her fight. Like other sport, the ONE Championship too was impacted by Covid-19. After eight months of inaction, Ritu fought her third bout against Cambodia’s Nou Srey Pov on October 30. Then came the fight against Torres.

“During my third fight, I was not injured and was fit to step on the octagon again. I played after eight months and it was important to keep the momentum going. So after my third bout, I continued my regular training every day and was ready for the next bout. It was supposed to happen on November 20 but got shifted to December 4,” Ritu said from Singapore.

“I am gaining experience and confidence from every fight since last year. I have improved from my first game. I am now more confident of my BJJ and striking. I shall build from here.”

Ritu’s striking did look better but it was again her takedown skills that ensured a dominant win. After taking some straight punches early on, Ritu took down her rival within a minute. She quickly moved to a mounted crucifix position and delivered a barrage of elbows, following which the referee stopped the bout.

“I try to play to my strengths. I always focus on not giving the opponent lot of opening. So, I kept on moving to try and unsettle her,” Ritu said.

“During lockdown, I kept myself fit at home. I made a schedule and stuck to it. As soon as gyms were open, I started regular practice. I was not supposed to grapple in the gym, but it was nice to train with the team rather than alone at home. It has helped me.”

With the ONE Championship atomweight (52.2 kg) title-holder Angela Lee pregnant and not fighting till late next year, the organisers are planning an eight-fighter grand prix to decide on the Canadian’s next title challenger. If Ritu can keep up, she may be one of them. “If I am in the grand prix, I will play in it like any other bout,” she said.