Ritu Phogat aims to 'shock' Cambodia's Nou Srey Pov in her third ONE Championship bout
Since her last bout, against Wu Chiao Chen on 28 February, Phogat claims to have worked hard on Muay Thai and Brazilian jiujitsu besides improving her boxing skills, and she aims to 'shock' her Cambodian opponent on 30 October.
In a sport that communicates in violent verbs and grandiose posturing, the word ‘shock’ appears a bit like cutsie candyfloss. Trash talking in combat sports is nothing new. People have called each other gorillas and got away. So, when Ritu Phogat speaks of ‘shocking’ Nou Srey Pov, her next opponent at ONE: Inside the Matrix, one is not really startled.
The word made multiple appearances each time a question pertaining to strategies was thrown at her. It served to conceal more than it sought to reveal. Sample this. “I want to shock my opponent. So far, people have identified me as a wrestler, but I want to try something different and shock them.” Or this: “I know Nou Srey Pov is a champion fighter and has won many bouts, but I am ready to shock her.”
Phogat’s wrestling pedigree is no secret. In fact, her strong grappling fundamentals made sure she effected takedowns without breaking a sweat against South Korea’s Nam Hee Kim and Chinese-Taipei’s Wu Chiao Chen, her only opponents thus far. Kim’s challenge was neutralised in a grand total of 3 minutes and 40 seconds, while Chen, who Phogat had claimed would be TKO’d in the first round, hung on for three rounds, albeit the Indian never really gave her a window.
🚨 BOUT CARD 🚨
ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX features FOUR World Title fights! Who you got? @AungLANsang @ChristianLeeMMA @MartinNguyenMMA @ThanhLeMMA @efolayang @PhogatRitu #InsideTheMatrix #WeAreONE #ONEChampionship pic.twitter.com/Fu5ynqeDae
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Pov could be a different kettle of fish though. A trained boxer and an exponent of Kun Khmer – Cambodia’s traditional martial arts – Pov has recorded over 90 wins in the discipline, as per the One Championships website. Striking, thus, comes naturally to her. It is an aspect of prizefight that Phogat is still getting attuned to.
While her wrestling base means she can use her strong upper body to grapple and floor her opponents before employing the ‘ground and pound’, Phogat's striking is a work in progress. Years of honed instinct and neuro-muscular memory take their time to unlearn, as do the assimilation of fresh fundamentals.
Since her last bout, against Chen on 28 February, Phogat claims to have worked hard on Muay Thai and Brazilian jiujitsu besides improving her boxing skills. “I don’t want to discuss a lot of strategies now. I’d rather employ them in the ring. I have studied videos of Pov and have a plan in place. I want to show everyone that I am more than a grappler,” she said.
Besides her opponents’ videos, one fighter whose showreel Phogat watches a lot is MMA lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Russian, with a 28-0 record, is set to fight Justin Gaethje this Saturday in UFC, and Phogat can be rest assured to pick some handy tips from ‘The Eagle.’
“I like the way he controls the ground. I am very much motivated by him and I aspire to fight like him. I really like to watch his videos,” she said. Then, there’s the Indian men’s cricket team captain Virat Kohli to turn to for fitness inspiration. “He is really inspiring. I watch a lot of his fitness videos to motivate myself to work harder.”
MMA parlance and a co-ordinated PR blitz have combined to add the moniker ‘The India Tigress’ as her middle name, but in the virtual press meet, Phogat, prowling all by herself in Singapore for 18 months now, showed little bluster. Beneath the veneer of bombast and blinding arclights, she came across as a wistful young athlete terribly missing her family. Away from her folks since India first entered the lockdown in March-end, the 26-year-old has made peace with a lonely life in Singapore.
“This is the first time that I am away from my family for so long. In my wrestling days, I would be away from my parents but my sisters would invariably be part of the camp or competition. Here, I am all on my own.” Video calls to family in Haryana’s Balali village have kept her sane, as has soft music, but it is the impending bout with Pov that has finally got her competitive fire raging.
“I have come so far away from my family with a purpose, which is to become a world champion. My target is to get selected for One Championships’ Grand Prix event next year which will feature eight champions. I am taking it step by step, and I am confident of realising my dream,” she said. A 'shocked' Pov on 30 October could well be a stepping stone towards that end.
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Ritu Phogat’s grappling pedigree set to meet Nou Srey Pov's Kun Khmer test at One Championship
Nou Srey made it clear that her famed Kun Khmer skills will be her go-to option. Kum Khmer, or Pradal Serey, is a traditional Cambodian boxing form. It is a stand-up martial art but unlike boxing, the practitioners are allowed to use their elbows too.