MMA: One: Battleground the stage for Indian Ritu Phogat's fightback

Ritu Phogat (left) fighting against Taiwanese Wu Chiao-chen at One: King of the Jungle in February 2020.
Ritu Phogat (left) fighting against Taiwanese Wu Chiao-chen at One: King of the Jungle in February 2020.PHOTO: ONE CHAMPIONSHIP

SINGAPORE - Commonwealth wrestling gold medallist Ritu Phogat had racked up four straight wins in dominant fashion - three of them finishes via technical knockout - since signing for mixed martial arts (MMA) outfit One Championship in 2019.

But that momentum came to a stunning halt in May, when the The Indian Tigress suffered a split-decision loss to Bi "Killer Bee" Nguyen at One: Dangal, her first defeat in professional MMA. The loss cost her a place in the One Women's Atomweight World Grand Prix quarter-finals, meaning she is now one step further away from the atomweight belt.

But ahead of her return to action at One: Battleground on Friday (July 30), she told The Straits Times that she is choosing to focus on the positives.

The 27-year-old, who admitted that she was "shocked by the announcement of the result for the previous fight", said: "Whether it is a loss or a win, I learnt something from it at the end of the day.

"The mistakes that I made during my past fights? I'm going to make sure that they don't happen again for this card."

And this time, Phogat is not planning to leave the decision in the hands of the judges.

"I want to prove myself in the cage. I will make sure the decision is clear and I will end the fight quickly," she declared.

But China's Lin Heqin will present a significant obstacle as the Indian tries to get back into the win column.

Lin, who is on an impressive 11-fight winning streak, holds a height advantage of 11cm over the 156cm tall Phogat but the World Under-23 Wrestling Championships silver medallist remains unfazed.

"Once I step into the ring, I forget about everything else and I just give my best - 110 per cent," said Phogat. "At the end of the day, my own skills and performance matters more."

Should she get a dominant victory in her upcoming fight, Phogat feels that she "deserves to be back in the Grand Prix", which will set her back on track to becoming the first India-born MMA world champion.

The Singapore-based Phogat, who is part of Evolve MMA's fight team, will be entering the fight in tip-top condition, having been on an intensive training regimen since May. She trains three days a week, with each day consisting of two sessions that last for around four hours in total.

Beyond physical training, her dad Mahavir Phogat also plays a significant role in her fight preparation.

Mahavir is no ordinary dad, and together with his two other daughters, are the subjects of the movie Dangal, which tells the story of how the former wrestler raised his daughters to become Commonwealth champions.

While Mahavir is a wrestling coach, he continues to support Phogat in her MMA journey, offering advice and feedback before and after each of her fights.

"He will always be a part of my training regardless of whether I am training with Evolve or not," added Phogat.

The One: Battleground card will be headlined by a strawweight muay thai world championship bout between Thailand's Sam-A and Prajanchai, while the co-main event will feature former two-division One world champion Aung La N Sang against Leandro Ataides.

And 17-year-old Victoria Lee, younger sister of One star Angela Lee, will kick things off against Wang Lu Ping at the Singapore Indoor stadium at 8.30pm.