INDIAN BOXER-TURNED-MMA FIGHTER Asha Roka is about to get into the biggest fight of her life, against ONE Championship's prized superstar Stamp Fairtex.
Asha, whom Indian MMA fans know from her exploits in the Super Fight League, is also an accomplished boxer with a wholesome amateur youth career behind it, and some professional bouts, most of them in the Super Boxing League.
At 20 years old and still early in her career, Asha sports a record of 4-0 in professional MMA, and 3-0-1 in professional boxing. She is undefeated as a professional combat sports athlete. And her amateur days, too, were filled with remarkable achievements.
She was a national champion and represented India in several tournaments where she won gold medals. She also won the bronze medal at the AIBA Women's Youth World Championships back in 2013, when she was just 14.
A highly technical striker with one punch knockout power, she stepped into Mixed Martial Arts soon afterwards and on 21st January 2017, made her professional debut against Angela Pink. She won the fight by a vicious left hook, getting the victory in just 9 seconds.
She continued her run in SFL just 8 days later, submitting Rajni Devi with a rear naked choke in the first round. In less than 3 weeks, she fought her toughest opponent yet in Hanna Kampf (who had a victory over Puja Tomar who is also fighting in ONE now) and submitted her with a guillotine choke just 42 seconds in.
She got back into the cage just 8 days later, and knocked out Liz Pereira in less than 2 minutes.
That's about it. She has had 4 professional MMA fights, won them all in the first round, two on the feet and two on the canvas, and spent a total of 4 minutes and 1 second in the cage.
She then returned to boxing, competing in the Super Boxing League, where she picked up 3 wins, with two bouts going the 3 round distance.
That's a superb record for a 20 year old to have. It also means she will be a living, breathing mystery going into the biggest fight of her career so far.
Her opponent, Nong Stamp who goes by the nickname Stamp Fairtex, is a world class superstar, and one of the most celebrated athletes in ONE. She has made history as the first ever two sport champion in the organization, and presently holds both the Muay Thai and Kickboxing atomweight belts. Her first professional MMA bout happened at ONE Warrior Series 2 back in July 2018 where she knocked out Rashi Shinde with a head kick in just 19 seconds. She is seen as a legitimate threat to ONE Atomweight MMA champion Angela Lee, and has the potential to combat sports history by becoming a three sport champion in ONE if she captures the Lee's belt.
On paper, Stamp Fairtex is a 1-0 MMA fighter. Which makes her match-up against a 4-0 Asha Roka more than legit. But her limited MMA record does not reflect the advanced combatant that she is.
Stamp Fairtex has a combined Kickboxing and Muay Thai record of 63-15-5. She comes from a Muay Thai background, started training at age 5 and has been living the harsh competitive life of a high level professional fighter for years now. She has been a two division NorthEastern Thailand Championships and regularly competed in tournaments where she was pitted against veterans of the sport.
In short, as a striker, Stamp Fairtex has been to the top of the mountain, and conquered it.
Compared to that, Asha's experience does not match up. The four opponents she faced in MMA have a combined professional record of 2-9. Even in professional, her opponents weren't of that high calibre. As an amateur boxer at the youth level she faced some very accomplished opponents. World class, in fact. But how much youth level boxing translates into high level MMA is anyone's guess. In general, extensive experience in Muay Thai is considered to be a much better tool in MMA than a classic boxing background. All in all, it may be too soon for Asha Roka to face somebody of Stamp Fairtex's calibre. The match-up has some similarities with the Sage Northcutt-Cosmo Alexandre fight. Northcutt came in with more MMA experience (High level bouts in LFC and UFC; miles ahead of what Roka was exposed to in SFL) but got viciously knocked out by an opponent who was a veteran striking phenom with 89 professional kickboxing bouts to his name.
But that's the reality of Indian MMA fighters. Without an adequate grassroot development structure in the country and few domestic promotions providing regular opportunities for youngsters to get fight experience and grow through it, they can hardly afford to turn down opportunities, especially when it comes from a global promotion like ONE.
And what an opportunity it is for Roka. She is going up against somebody who is already a superstar. She is fighting right before the co-main event in on a big night; a rare feat for Indian MMA fighters. Going up against a world class striker, an international superstar, in her own hometown is a daunting task. But just showing up turns her into a name recognized by all Asian MMA fans. If she can perform well, her stock as a fighter will go up significantly.
But going up against an opponent unlike any she has faced before, what does she have in her own arsenal to hold as leverage over Stamp? It's hard to pin-point, but if we're being optimistic there are two possible areas.
Ever since Asha moved to Delhi to pursue an MMA career, she has been focusing hard on her jiu-jiutsu. In the short amount of time she has spent in the cage she has landed two submission victories. And while Nong Stamp comes from Fairtex Gym which has a fairly decent jiu jiutsu programme and a bunch of fighters who do well on the ground, we just haven't seen her taken down yet. So how will Asha's ground game match up against Stamp's? We don't know. And that's a proper intrigue associated with this fight. Whether one considers Roka to be a major prospect or not, if she manages to take the fight to the ground, that'll be a whole new story being told that'll capture everyone who cares about ONE's MMA Atomweight division.
Recently, Asha Roka has been training at Tiger Muay Thai. It's a gym known around the world for developing lethal strikers. They have been observing Nong Stamp for years, and know her game inside out. There's a good chance Roka has got to study hours of Stamp's Muay Thai bout footage, and experienced coaches have advised her about where to look for holes in her opponent's game; although finding one is as hard as it gets. In comparison, Nong Stamp and her coaches have only a few minutes of footage on Asha Roka; and her boxing bouts won't be that helpful since the fighting style differs significantly in MMA. Even going by her SFL and SBL footage one can tell that Roka's stance, manner of aggression and movement in the MMA differs signficantly from how she fights in boxing.
So chances are, Nong Stamp will know way less about Asha Roka and what she can do in the ring than Roka will know about Stamp. Is that a definitive advantage? No. But it's an intrigue. And intriuge makes fights. Both the fighters are stepping into the unknown here; Asha in terms of level of competition, and Stamp in terms of the nature of her opponent. And conquering the Great Unknown is how legends are made.
On 16th August, at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Asha Roka will face two sport world champion Nong 'Stamp Fairtex'. It will be another in a string of featured fights where ONE have pitted Indian fighters against hometown heroes. It will an uphill battle for Roka, and she is definitely taking a risk here. But win or lose, if she can hold her own against a world class striker, it will not only elevate her but also the prestige of Indian MMA along with her.