Indian wrestling superstar Ritu Phogat is set to make her professional mixed martial arts debut when she takes on Korea’s Nam Hee Kim in an atomweight contest. The pair faced-off today at an open workout and are scheduled to meet in the ONE Championship ring at ONE: AGE OF DRAGONS, which takes place 16 November, at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing, China.
ONE: AGE OF DRAGONS will also be aired on Star Sports Select 2 on Saturday, 16 November starting at 2:30pm IST. The main card, featuring Ritu Phogat's ONE debut, will begin at 4:00pm IST.
Ahead of Phogat’s first foray into the mixed martial arts arena, the 25-year-old details how she envisions her path unfolding in a new sport, her ultimate goal, and how she plans to accomplish the mission she has set for herself.
“No question, I want to become a mixed martial arts World Champion, and everything I’m doing now is preparing me for that,” said Phogat.
“I made the decision to jump into this with my full heart and will. My goal is to become the first Indian woman to win a mixed martial arts World Championship. I believe I’m in a great position to represent my country, and I want to inspire as many women as I can. It’s an honor.”
Phogat is already an accomplished athlete, having garnered multiple accolades throughout her competition career. She is a Commonwealth Wrestling Championships Gold Medalist, World U23 Wrestling World Championships Silver Medalist, Asian Wrestling Championships Bronze Medalist, and multiple-time Indian National Wrestling Champion.
Hailing from Haryana, Phogat is widely-regarded as one of India’s top sports superstars and one of the most talented wrestlers in the world. Her sisters Geeta, Babita Kumari, and Sangeeta as well as cousin Vinesh are also wrestling champions.
The Phogat family was the subject of the 2016 blockbuster film, Dangal, which told the story of Indian wrestling pioneer Mahavir Singh Phogat based loosely on real-life events.
Already a recognizable face in her home country, Phogat now enters the international arena. She looks to make her presence known.
“One of my goals is to bring honor to Indian martial arts. I think it’s really important that we celebrate my country’s culture and history and I really hope I can represent that well on the global stage,” said Phogat.
“I have big plans, but first, I have to take care of business against an opponent who wants to spoil the party. I’ve prepared well for this, but this is my first time, and we’ll have to see where I’m at after this fight.”
Two of the coaches who have worked closely with Phogat, former WBA Boxing World Champion Drian Francisco and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Teco Shinzato, can attest to the 25-year old’s progress as a fighter.
“Ritu has come a long way. When she first moved to Singapore, she didn’t have any knowledge about striking,” said Francisco, who leads the boxing program at Evolve.
“Now that she’s training full time under all the World Champions at Evolve MMA, she’s learned how to strike, punch, kick, and grapple. She is strong, delivers hard punches, and wants to learn. She really works hard.”
Shinzato, who is also the coach of Singapore’s national Jiu-Jitsu team, says Phogat is ready for the unique ground encounters she could face in the cage.
“She has made significant improvement in her ground game. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but compared to when she first joined us, she can better understand the concepts and techniques I teach,” Shinzato said of Phogat’s progress.
“She’s really good at takedowns because she’s a wrestler. I try to work with it and capitalize on that to make her more of a well-rounded athlete. She’s making good progress to becoming a good fighter.”
There is less than a couple of days left until Phogat makes her professional mixed martial arts debut. How she performs against her opponent, Nam Hee Kim, will be a great indicator as to how far she has yet to climb the mountain until she reaches the top.
Reaching the pinnacle of the sport is something she is completely focused on. For Phogat, it’s only a matter of time.
“I’m in no rush. I’m young, I’m strong, and I’m hungry,” Phogat concluded.
“Give me a few fights, let me get a feel for this and I’ll be contending for a World Title soon. I promise my fans I’ll give them something to cheer about. I want to make my Dad proud. I want to make my family proud.”