India’s Ritu Phogat is set to battle at the upcoming ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX against Cambodian MMA sensation Nou Srey Pov later this month. The wrestler turned MMA fighter shares insights on the build-up to the big day, with her eyes fixed on nothing but glory for the country.

Q. How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your life? How have you managed training etc. and keeping a positive mental attitude?

Yes, my training has obviously been impacted, especially because for me, MMA is a new sport. So it has been a challenging transition. I am also living in a new country, Singapore, all by myself. So it has definitely been hard because the game is new and the country is new. Also, I don’t have my sisters around or my father to take advice from. However, during the lockdown when training was halted because wrestling and grappling are contact sports, the coaches helped me by making training videos. But everything has slowly become better now because the lockdown has eased considerably in Singapore and now I am working out and training at the gym. I have been working on improving my striking technique as I want to show the world that we Indians are ‘all rounders’. On field or off field!

But yes, it is quite unfortunate that the pandemic has caused problems for everyone around the world.

Q. The Salman Khan movie Sultan is also about a wrestler becoming an MMA champion, do you relate to the film?

I have actually not watched the film. My aim to foray into the MMA circle was to do something different and improve myself. MMA is still not mainstream in India and it’s disheartening that there aren’t many MMA champions in India when I know we have a surplus of talent. I want to Indian athletes to understand the sheer scope of MMA and the popularity that MMA holds across the world. I wanted to take this up as a challenge.

Q. How are you keeping your morale up during such tough times? Is there any particular music you listen to?

My motivation has always been my father and his words, he has always said to me – You have to sacrifice to win something. My prime goal is to make my family and my country proud. I am here all by myself and I’ve left my country behind, my sisters behind, hence, my sole focus is on doing the best and that is my motivation. I have to win the world championship belt. I don’t listen to too many songs but when I do, I listen to upbeat music while training and ghazals while I have some free time.

Q. What will be your participation in wrestling on behalf of India, will you be participating in wrestling matches now?

I have moved away from wrestling now and am now training in MMA.

Q. How do you manage stress?

I do yoga or watch motivational videos. But I generally don’t take much stress.

Q. Who are you living with right now?

I have been living on my own now in Singapore for the past one and half years and I have been continuing my MMA training here.

Q. How challenging will it be to fight in an empty arena? How will this experience be? Also, what kind of diet have you been following and who is your inspiration?

My sisters have always been my inspiration. I have always watched them wrestle and I have tried to emulate them, and now I want to make my country proud in the Mixed Martial Arts space.

Yes, no audience in the stadium will definitely feel different as crowds can provide motivation and cheer. But when I step into the ring, my sole focus is my opponent. Besides, an empty stadium means that you can hear nothing but your coach, guiding you through the match.

My diet has changed a lot. Back home in India, I had access to natural homemade foods and proteins, but since my move to Singapore, I have had to include supplements, multivitamins and protein powders in my diet. I follow a strict diet schedule that my coach has provided me with.

Q. How did you get the name “Indian Tigress”?

During my wrestling days, many people used to say that the moment I put my mind to something whether it was in the wrestling ring or outside, I would just go for it like a determined tigress! Hence, I got this name – the Indian Tigress.

Q. What do you think India’s position will be in the upcoming Olympics?

I strongly believe that Indians are really raising the benchmark with every match/game we play. Today, we are tough competitors to some of the greatest athletes across the world. Our athletes are working hard and I feel that we will surely do well at the Olympics.

Q. What will your strategy be while playing against your opponent Nou Srey Pov on the 30th of October?

She is an experienced MMA champion and it will be a tough and interesting fight between the both of us. I am ready and have worked extremely hard for this. I am ready to give it my best! And as far as strategies are concerned, I would want each one of you to tune in and watch some of the strategies I deploy against the opponent.

Q. What other aspects of the game have you worked on because only wrestling techniques are not sufficient?

Yes absolutely, I have been working on perfecting a lot of other techniques but wrestling has formed the bedrock of a lot of my efforts in MMA. Moves like take-down are very easy for me. Initially, I had a lot of trouble with striking and jujitsu, but now I have improved all of this and you will see this in my match on the 30thof Oct.

Q. You wanted to be the first Indian to win an MMA world title. How close are you to that dream? Also what sets you apart from other Indian fighters? What are the weaknesses of your opponent that you have studied?

I am not far from my dream of bagging the world championship title in MMA because I have been working hard for a long time now. One Championship has also announced a Grand Prix tournament next year which will feature 8 champions. My target is to get selected for that tournament although my first focus is my upcoming match. My opponent is a good fighter and I have studied her strengths and weaknesses, you will see it in my match!

Q. What are you doing to promote MMA in India?

My goal is to win and make MMA popular in India firstly. India is not short on talent. I just want to be an inspiration so that others approach MMA more seriously. I want to induce conversations around the sport in the country to give it the recognition it deserves.

Q. Your previous bouts have been similar wins, what will you do differently this time. What are your expectations from this bout?

Yes, I have worked on a different strategy to win this time. I want to win this match a little differently. My goal this time will be to knockout my opponent.

Q. What advice would you give women who want to take up MMA sports?

My advice to anyone would be to work hard and have a great amount of dedication, no matter what the sport is.

Q. What should your mental state be like when in a fight?

You have to be mentally strong, this is very important for athletes. This is why I meditate to keep my mind strong.

Q. You’re called ‘the female Khabib Nurmagomedov’ by Indian fans since you’re both a world class wrestler and are undefeated. Have you seen him fight?

Yes, I have been very motivated by him and I watch a lot of his videos. I like his fighting style a lot and I am inspired by him. I aspire to be like him some day.

Q. Have you drawn any particular lessons from Khabib Nurmagomedov?

Yes, his control on the ground is immense. I keep watching his videos to learn more.

Q. What has been your father’s response to your move to MMA?

My father and sisters have been very supportive. All my father told me is that, no matter what the game is, I have to always make my country proud. Let your goal always be glory to the country.

Q. There is this one particular advice your father gives you for a match, what is that advice?

My father always says to pack enough power in one punch so that the opponent is instantly knocked out and cannot get up at all. Basically, pack as much power in every punch!

Q. MMA is fast gaining popularity in India, what do you think is fuelling this?

I think it is because the media is covering this more. Earlier, people didn’t really know about MMA, but with changing times, more and more people in India are getting to know about the sports in mixed martial arts but there is room for a lot more awareness.

Q. How has staying away from your family been and how much support does your family provide?

Ofcourse, staying away from my family has been very difficult. At home, I could solely focus on my training, here, since I am on my own, I have to manage my strict diet and training and everything else at home, I have to be self reliant.

Q. What is the one lesson from your sports life that you use in your personal life?

Discipline. If we are not disciplined, we cannot achieve anything.

Q. What is your message to Indians to stay fit during this lockdown?

Out of 24 hours, I would advise everyone to take out just 30 mins and practice Yoga. Even doing household chores helps. Yoga and meditation are the best options.

Q. What do you do in your leisure time, when you’re not training, as it is very crucial for your mental health and peace?

On Sundays when I am not training, I make some different dish to eat and catch up on household chores. I make a dessert like a kheer or something.

Q. What is the preparation you undertake 24 hours before the match?

I am usually very excited before the match and don’t take any stress. I picture my opponent and imagine the fight in my mind.

Q. Which one thing do you want to strike out from your life?

Nothing. I think it’s good as is.

Q. When you miss home who is the one person you call and speak to? Any interesting conversations you have had that have boosted your mental toughness?

I would have never reached this stage without the help and support of my family. I miss my older sister and her baby the most. If I am ever stressed or worried, I don’t usually tell my parents and family because they will get worried unnecessarily.

Q. Apart from your sisters, which other sports personalities are your icons?

Virat Kohli is really inspiring, I like watching his training videos. Also, like I said, Khabib is very inspirational for me.

Q. What is your daily training routine?

I begin training at 9:30 am and then I have classes till afternoon. I also take extra classes during the week because I am new to the sport and I want to learn more.

Q. Do you like any particular spot or location in Singapore?

I am not much of an explorer and love the peace and tranquility of my home.

Q. How have you worked on making your MMA game better?

There are many people who help me sharpen my skills everyday. My coach and other champions are helping me too. Some have even become like older sisters. I have been getting a lot of help and guidance from a lot of people out here and I am grateful.

Q. How do you want to win this fight, do you want to do something differently?

Yes, I definitely want to break out of my wrestling mould and do something different. I want people and my opponents to know that I am not just a wrestler and I know how to strike.

Q. Do high expectations affect you?

No, not really. In fact, I get motivated due to high expectations and train harder. If people are rooting for me, I must not let them down!

Q. A lot of women in India don’t get encouragement to take up sports, what will you tell them?

I urge parents to support their daughters because they deserve the chance to represent their country and make everyone proud. With hard work and dedication, anyone can achieve greatness.

Q. Dangal was based on your family’s story, if there is ever a biopic made on your life, which Bollywood actor would you choose to play your character?

I think I would like to play myself in the film! Because no one knows my struggle and journey better than myself!

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