Ex-wrestler Ritu Phogat cites YouTube as reason behind switch to MMA, hopes her debut boosts sport's popularity in India

  • Phogat admitted that the sport was still relatively unknown in India and has a niche following in the cricket-mad nation, but has a lot of potential to grow

  • She is set to make her MMA debut against South Korea's Nam Hee Kim in ONE Championship's 'Age of Dragon' event in Beijing on 16 November

  • The Haryana native currently trains at the Singapore-based EVOLVE MMA in various disciplines such as Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, etc

Ritu Phogat hopes to become a flag-bearer of sorts for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), as far as the Indian audience is concerned, as she gears up for her debut in the sport.

Ritu, a member of the famous Phogat wrestling family, is set to make her maiden appearance in the MMA against South Korea’s Nam Hee Kim in ONE Championship’s ‘Age of Dragon’ event in Beijing on 16 November.

Phogat admitted that the sport was still relatively unknown in India and has a niche following in the cricket-mad nation. However, she added that it has a lot of potential to grow.

“I see MMA establishing itself in the coming years in India. People in this country don’t know much about the sport, but hopefully, that will change once they see my matches. I hope I play some role in growing the sport in India,” said the third of Mahavir Singh Phogat’s four daughters in an interaction with Firstpost.

Phogat had decided to call it quits in wrestling, a sport in which she has won multiple accolades herself, in February earlier this year in order to devote herself fully to the sport that has already made it big in nations such as the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Russia as well as in Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea.

The Haryana native, who currently trains at the Singapore-based EVOLVE MMA, described watching a lot of videos on YouTube, which caught her attention and made her think about a career change.

“I had been watching Mixed Martial Arts for quite some time on platforms such as YouTube. But I didn’t exactly know where the training for this sport takes place. EVOLVE gave me an opportunity (to make a mark in the sport) and I didn’t want to let the chance slip away,” said Phogat.

Ritu’s elder sisters Geeta and Babita have both won bronze in the World Wrestling Championships as well as medals in the Asian Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Her father Mahavir, a former wrestler himself and later a coach, along with her sisters were the focus of the smash-hit 2016 Hindi film Dangal, which went on to become the highest-grossing Indian film of all time.

Did her family members object to her moving away from a sport in which she had shown so much of potential? Phogat said she wouldn’t be where she is at the moment without her family’s support.

“I wouldn’t be here without the support of my family. Not once did they say ‘no’ to my choice of switching over to MMA.

“They encouraged me to take up the sport of my choice, as long as I gave my hundred percent to it and kept our national flag flying high,” said Phogat, who hopes to someday come face-to-face with ace Singaporean fighter Angela Lee, who currently is ONE Championships’s female atomweight title-holder.

Phogat also received words of encouragement from former American mixed martial artist Miesha Tate, who currently serves as the vice president of ONE Championship.

“She is a very hard worker and I think anybody with the attitude, athletic ability and determination that Ritu Phogat has is destined for greatness,” said the wrestler-turned-MMA icon, a former UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion.

Phogat has been training for her debut for months now, practising her skills in various disciplines such as Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), boxing and wrestling. According to her, coming from a wrestling background has its advantages as takedowns — a move in which a mixed martial artist throws his/her opponent off balance and pin them to the mat — are an integral aspect in both grappling as well as in MMA.

Asked if the thought of making another appearance in wrestling anytime soon is on her mind, Ritu stressed on becoming an MMA champion as the only thing that’s on her mind at the moment and is driving her.

The 'Age of Dragons' event, which is set to take place in Beijing's Cadillac Arena, will be telecast on Star Sports Select in India.

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Updated Date: Nov 06, 2019 15:06:16 IST