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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Ritu Phogat’s wrestling lands her two steps away from MMA crown

Wrestling, though, has been the calling card for Phogat’s fledgling MMA career. And it’s plain to see why.

Written by Shashank Nair |
Updated: October 30, 2021 12:39:56 pm
Ritu Phogat, MMA, Ritu Phogat mma, mma Ritu Phogat, Stamp Fairtex, Ritu Phogat vs Stamp Fairtex, sports news, indian expressRitu Phogat will take on Thai striker Stamp Fairtex in the final of the ONE Atomweight Grand Prix tournament. (File)

It took less than a minute into the One Championship’s Atomweight Women’s Grand Prix for Ritu Phogat to show why the odds are in her favour to become India’s first ever professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion. A quick dip into the range of her Philippine opponent Jenelyn Olsim, a successful grab of her left leg, and the single-leg takedown was accomplished just as the fight began. That option remained with her all night as her superior wrestling-skills made up for any other deficiencies she might have had. And it helped the Haryana grappler extend her record to 7-1 in the professional MMA stream.

The 27-year-old’s Atomweight semi-final was initially against Japan’s undefeated fighter Itsuku Hirata, who had to drop out because of a non-Covid related illness. In stepped Olsim and her Muay Thai background.

Wrestling, though, has been the calling card for Phogat’s fledgling MMA career. And it’s plain to see why.

In a sport where the mix and match of multiple disciplines can confound the best, sticking to your strengths and keeping things simple can often be the key to success. It also helps that her dominant discipline is a sport that continues to be the tool of choice for champions simply because of how much control a good wrestler can exert.

In the first round itself, Phogat’s wrestling was enough to subdue Olsim. But while the opponent was not able to mount any defence when it came to stopping the takedown attempts, Olsim’s grappling and submission was a true test for Phogat. The Philippine tried to lock Phogat down in a triangle choke towards the end of the first round. But when it was clear that Phogat would not give up, Olsim attempted to transition to an armbar. But the Indian slipped out of reach and reset once again.

Phogat’s takedowns were clearly going to win her the opening round, but Olsim wasn’t completely out of the bout just yet. When on their feet, she was clearly the better striker and would have been able to utilise her five-inch reach advantage a lot more but for the wrestler in front of her.

One of Phogat’s biggest problems with her game is when Plan A doesn’t work. Usually, the primary strategy involves a takedown, which when successful, transitions into side control that allows clear fists to the opponent’s face. Against Olsim though, that plan rarely worked.

Olsim’s movement on the ground, when in a defensive position, never allowed Phogat to hold onto her and unleash her hands. While the position and points always favoured the Indian, the Philippine would always have traps set for Phogat on the ground.

That’s how Round 2 panned out. There were a couple of triangle attempts but Phogat would always manage to slip out of them. There would be a couple of stinging hooks that landed but Phogat continued to move forward. There would also be a slew of illegal upkicks, which caused the bout to be stopped for a few minutes late in the second round after one to the neck staggered Phogat. But the bout continued and Phogat would chalk up Round 2 in her name as well.

The third round was where Phogat got into a brief moment of trouble. Olsim managed to lock in a tight triangle choke. But Phogat stayed calm as the pressure mounted on her neck and willed her way out of trouble. She then ended the third on some ground-and-pound striking to add another win to her column.

Phogat will next face Stamp Fairtex, a veteran Thai kickboxing legend with a similar style to Olsim, but far more refined. The bout is set to take place on December 3. A win there will take her to an Atomweight title bout.

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