PUJA TOMAR IS RETURNING TO ACTION next week at ONE Championship, but this time she will be trying out a new sport altogether.
The all-striking tentpole event "ONE Championship: Immortal Triumph" will take place on 6th September in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, headlined by a ONE Muay Thai Bantamweight Championship bout between Nong-O Gaiyanghadao and Brice Deval. The event features 11 Muay Thai and 3 Kickboxing bouts, and the second fight on the main card will feature Puja Tomar (4-3 MMA) takin on the popular Vietnamese-American fighter Bi Nguyen (5-4 MMA) in a Muay Thai contest at Atomweight (52 kg; 115 pounds).
Puja Tomar has fought 3 times previously under the ONE banner, all of whom have been Mixed Martial Arts bouts. After her intial stint at Super Fight League where she went 3-1, Puja debuted for ONE in November 2017 where she was submitted by Tiffany Teo in the very first round. In March 2018 she took on Hayatun Jihin Radzuan where she fell to submission again; this time in the second round.
Now 0-2 in ONE, she was under a huge pressure to deliver when she fought Priscilla Gaol at "ONE Championship: Eternal Glory" in January this year. The fight was unlike any she had had before; a technical standoff between two durable fighters, both of whom were Wushu champions in their own countries, who took turns in gaining upper hand in the contest. For the first time in her professional MMA career, Puja spent 15 full minutes in the cage, and earned a close split decision victory.
The win was an important moment not just for Puja's career but also Indian MMA. It continues to be rare for Indian fighters to find success at global organizations, and that night Puja Tomar joined a small elite circle of Indian fighters who had their hand raised in the ONE Championship.
Puja had also upset the hometown hero, beating Priscilla in front of her vocal fans at Jakarta, Indonesia. Proving herself to be able to handle the pressure of being the antagonist in the arena was important for Puja since ONE have a habit of pitting Indian fighters against bright prospects in their own backyard.
And that's exactly what the promotion has done now; booking Puja Tomar to fight Bi Nguyen, who is a hero in Vietnam, right in her country of root.
Nguyen is one of the most interesting figures in the ONE Atomweight division. She has already fought twice in MMA this year. In April she made her promotional debut, knocking out Dwi Wulan in the first round. Then in July, she went three rounds with Bozhena Antoniyar but lost the fight by split decision.
In fact, Bi Nguyen is arguably one of the most active fighters in the whole ONE roster. And she has been restlessly cage-bound throughout her career. She had 5 amateur fights within 20 months before turning pro in July 2016, and she has had 9 fights since then. She is also very durable; all but one of her pro losses have come via decision; and the other one by submission. The only time she was knocked out was her second amateur fight back in 2015, and it goes without saying that she has improved by leaps and bounds since then.
Nguyen did a lot of Muay Thai (in fact she became a national Muay Thai champion) and she undoubtedly loves to fight on her feet. She has never submitted an opponent in MMA. And this is makes her a very compatible stylistic match-up for Puja Tomar, who thanks to her Wushu background likes to base her game plan on striking.
In many ways, Puja Tomar is tresspassing into Bi Nguyen's territory. The fight is taking place in Vietnam, and Puja is a Wushu player challenging a long time Muay Thai practitioner in her own game. On those terms, the cards are stacked against her.
But there's a flip side to the equation. In Puja's 7 pro MMA fights spread over 6 years, her biggest vulnerability has been her jiu-jiutsu. In fact, all 3 of her losses have been via submission. And every time she has managed to keep the fight on her own terms - which is mostly on the feet - she has won. So, in a Muay Thai bout (a sport she is quite familiar with by now), she is fighting under rules where she doesn't have to worry about being taken down and choked. It's pretty close to her Wushu-oriented comfort zone. So, even if a strong Muay Thai background may translate into some competitive advantage for Nguyen, it's not that big a hurdle to overcome for Puja.
And it can be argued that Puja packs a lot more power in her hands. All but one of her wins have come via KO or TKO, while all but one victories of Bi Nguyen have come via decision. It's a battle of a grinder and a finisher. Bi Nguyen has spent significantly more time in high level competition than Puja and is likely to have a better technical base, but Puja's ability to finish fights will remain a constant threat that can turn the table at any given moment.
So while at first glance it might be surprising that these two prominent MMA atomweights are fighting under Muay Thai rules instead, their inclusion in the ONE Super Series does make a lot of sense in terms of matchmaking.
As strikers, they are near-perfect foils for each other. Wushu base vs Muay Thai base. Grinder vs finisher. Hometown hero vs hometown stunner. In some ways, both Nguyen and Puja may be happy to face each other in a Muay Thai fight; this bout plays to both their strengths.
The ONE Atomweight division is a tough terrain for a new fighter to assert themselves. The likes of Angela Lee (champion), Mei Yamaguchi, Jihin Radzuan, Bozhena Antoniyar and Stamp Fairtex have already established themselves as the top dogs. Maybe for fighters like Puja Tomar and Bi Nguyen, who have found it hard to get a winning streak going, displaying their skills in Muay Thai provides a good way to raise their stocks as fighters.
ONE Championship: Immortal Triupmh
6th September, 2019
Phu Tho Indoor Stadium, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Full Fight Card:
Bantamweight Muay Thai world title fight – Nong-O Gaiyanghadao vs. Brice Delval
Bantamweight Muay Thai – Saemapetch Fairtex vs. Rafi Bohic
Flyweight Muay Thai – Nguyen Tran Cuy Nhat vs. Azwan Che Wil
Light heavyweight kickboxing – Beybulat Isaev vs. Anderson Silva
Bantamweight Muay Thai – Kulabdam Sor. Jor. Piek Uthai vs. Bobo Sacko
Flyweight Muay Thai – Chris Nguyen vs. Yukinori Ogasawara
Atomweight Muay Thai – Bi Nguyen vs. Puja Tomar
Flyweight kickboxing – Panpayak Jitmuangnon vs. Masahide Kudo
Flyweight Muay Thai – Mongkoloetch Petchyindee Academy vs. Joseph Lasiri
Welterweight kickboxing – Santino Verbeek vs. Juan Cervantes
Flyweight Muay Thai – Singtongnoi Por Telakun vs. Momotaro
Strawweight Muay Thai – Amber Kitchen vs. Viktoria Lipianska
Featherweight kickboxing – Nguyen Thanh Tung vs. Shahzaib Rindh
Featherweight Muay Thai – Michael Pham vs. Mohamad Fakri Bin Yusoff