13 February 2020
New Delhi: It took Ritu Phogat about three minutes to open her mixed martial arts (MMA) account in November 2019 and she doesn't want her second fight in the One Championship stable to last more than that. Ritu, the third sister of the famous Phogat family of wrestlers, will face Chinese Taipei's Wu Chiao Chen on February 28 at the One: King of the Jungle in Singapore.
Ritu says that her training since her previous bout involved more focus on striking, a skill that is completely absent in wrestling but is integral to MMA. But she admits that her wrestling foundation gives her an advantage.
"Yes it does help me a lot. Seven out of the top 10 fighters in MMA are those who came from a wrestling background. For me that is a big benefit," Ritu said in New Delhi, where she held her first open workout session on Wednesday.
A good example of what she talks about is reigning UFC Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who with 28 wins and no losses, currently holds the longest unbeaten streak in MMA. Khabib is someone Ritu looks up to. "He also tries to win matches by takedowns. So I watch his fights a lot," she says.
She however feels that apart from learning new skills, her training is not too different from what she did during her brief but medal-laden career in amateur wrestling.
"You need power, speed and endurance in wrestling and MMA. The skills required are different. In wrestling skills like punching and striking are not allowed which is used in MMA," she said.
"It is difficult to convert. But since I had the physical fitness for it from the beginning it was fine. The skills I learnt later."
Helping Ritu out during the open workout as a sparring partner was her team mate from the Singapore-based Evolve Mixed Martial Arts Maira Mazar. The Brazilian said that Ritu has shown considerable improvement since she joined the MMA scene.
"When she came she only knew wrestling. Now she knows how to many things. Her timing is good, she knows when to perform a takedown. Her jiu jitsu has improved a lot," she said.
Mazar says that someone like Ritu can gain a lot by learning how to duck and block well, in the process tiring her opponent out which makes her locks more effective.
"If I punch and I see my opponent get scared, it is good but if I see that my opponent is not too affected by that, I have a problem. For grapplers it is always important to understand how to be safe. A good punch is important but if you want to hurt someone, being able to absorb punches is more important," she said.
Ritu said that her strategy will be such that she will be trying to finish the match as early as possible. "My strategy will be to try and finish the match in the first round itself. I had won via a TKO in the previous match, this time I will try to do the same," she said.
"(In the last fight) it hadn't been too long at the time since I started the MMA. I have learnt a lot since then and after the bout I focussed a lot more on that alongwith striking and the rest. You will see what improvements I have made in my next match," she said.