Ritu, a Commonwealth Wrestling Championship gold medallist, registered victory over Kim Nam-hee in just over 3 minutes.
The third of four daughters of former wrestler and coach Mahavir, Ritu spoke to Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview and spoke about her debut MMA win, her family support, leaving her first love wrestling, Vinesh Phogat’s Olympic medal-winning chances and more.
You kicked off your MMA journey in style, winning your debut bout magnificently. What was the experience like?
Winning is always good, but to be honest I was a bit nervous in the beginning as it was my first-ever official MMA match. The support I received during the match was simply awesome. I was not thinking about winning or losing, I just wanted to do well. I had confidence in my abilities and in the end it all worked out well.
Did you get any call from your father Mahavir Phogat or sisters Geeta and Babita after your win?
Yes. I spoke with them before and after the match. They all were very happy. Geeta was actually scared looking at the previous match which was a high intensity MMA bout and finished quickly with a TKO. But then she saw me enter the MMA ring for the first time. She was confident of a good show. My father has always been supportive and always asked me to give my best for the country. I promised him that I will give my 100 percent.
After registering a win over South Korean opponent Nam Hee Kim, who is next in line for you?
The opponent for my next match will soon be announced. You can expect me to play my second bout very soon.
Were you nervous before your maiden MMA fight?
Yes I was. It was like the butterflies in your stomach before an exam. Even though you are super prepared you still have those butterflies. Of course a lot of people were expecting me to win the fight back at home, my compatriots, my friends, so there was pressure, but I always thrive under pressure.
Did you get any motivational talk from your father or sisters ahead of the bout?
Yes they know me very well. They know that if I decide to do something, I will be fully dedicated to it. So they encouraged me like they always do before any game of mine. But one thing my father told me which I will always cherish is – ‘It doesn’t matter what sport you play, it is important that you do full justice to it. You have to perform to your full potential in everything you do and that will only happen with determination, hard-work and focus. In the end you are playing for your country first’.
You have been a wrestler too. Do you see any similarities between MMA and Wrestling?
In fact, wrestling is very important in MMA. Your wrestling skills always help you to take down your opponents in MMA and also gives you an advantage over your opponent on-the ground. MMA also has other forms of mixed martial arts which we can use – Muay thai, BJJ, Boxing, etc. You can strike, punch, and kick your opponent at the same time. You can also dominate on the ground. It all depends on what your strengths are and how you play the game which suits your strengths.
According to you, which wrestling technique comes handy in MMA?
The whole of wrestling – the strength, the takedown, the on-ground dominance etc. The only thing here is you don’t get points for rolling over your opponents or pushing your opponents out of the mat, but the skills to do those things help a lot when you want to control the game.
What was the reason behind leaving wrestling for MMA?
My nature to do something different. My interest in MMA. And of course this opportunity coming my way. So when the transition was possible, I decided to give it a shot.
Will wrestling remain your first love or has MMA has taken over?
Of course wrestling will always remain my first love. I am what I am because of wrestling and the transition was possible only because I was a good wrestler.
What is Ritu Phogat’s ultimate goal?
To become India’s first ever women’s MMA champion. There is no one from our country at the global stage in MMA, and I totally believe that India has what it takes to produce a World Champion.
You will not be able to represent India at the Olympics. Is that a regret?
I was totally aware about it, but I chose a different path. So there are no regrets. I am also representing my country in MMA in One Championship. What matters is winning and doing your best for the country in whatever sport you want to be in. Maybe someday we can see MMA in the Olympics. Since boxing, Wrestling etc are already Olympic sports so why not MMA?
There are a lot of hopes from Vinesh (Phogat) at the Tokyo Olympics. She missed out on a medal in Rio. Do you think she can win an Olympic medal in Tokyo?
Yes totally. She is the best female wrestler in the county currently and I feel she has everything (all the qualities) to win a medal in the Olympics. Last time she missed out due to an unfortunate injury, but this time we are all hoping she brings glory to our country.