In the build-up to her MMA debut, Ritu Phogat often appeared more anxious than excited, acknowledging the nerves ahead of the high-profile One Championship bout in Beijing. It only added to the intrigue. Her wrestling pedigree was unquestioned, but what happens when Ritu gets punched in the face? After all, the fights start standing up.
On Saturday, the 25-year-old answered all questions, in a debut that was as good as it gets. Sure, a 10-second knockout would have been more hysterical. But Ritu’s 3minute40second-dismantling of South Korea’s Nam Hee Kim ticked all the boxes. Puzzling everyone who expected her to start shooting for takedowns from the get go, Ritu began jabbing away, establishing distance and tempting counter. Then when she got the chance, Ritu entered for a double leg takedown, leg-tripped Kim and muscled her down. Inexplicably, she conceded the top position and let her opponent stand, only to take her down more emphatically a minute later.
She also got caught. Punches from better opponents will be cleaner and stronger, and that Ritu started flinching thereafter shows there remain holes in her stand-up game. But as long as she gets hold of fighters, Ritu will put them down. She tried letting her opponent stand for a second time, waited, and then jumped on top her her.
Also missing is the killer instinct, which will only come with more time in the cage (or a kickboxing ring, in this case). On top of Kim for more than a minute, Ritu worked to a mounted crucifix position, leaving her opponent defenseless. She then rained down a flurry of punches on Kim’s face, which was more agitating than damaging. Experienced fighter would have used their elbows to deadly effect; her corner had to scream to prompt the Indian to do so. Eventually the ‘ground-and-pound’ was sustained enough for the referee to stop the fight.
Most importantly though, Ritu looked composed, both in the ring and while jogging down the ramp to AR Rahman’s ‘Vande Mataram.’
“I have only one goal and that’s to win the ONE Atomweight World Championship for my country.” she said afterwards. “That’s why I chose ‘Vande Mataram’ as my walkout song, listening to it fills me with enthusiasm and makes me want to do something for India. For me it’s all about becoming the first Indian world champion in MMA.
“I want to thank my sisters and my family, they believed in me and motivated me… I want thank everyone for their support, I promise I’ll always give my one hundred percent.”