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‘Wrestling or MMA, sport doesn’t matter. Making the country proud does’

Earlier this year, Ritu Phogat made a switch to another combat sport – mixed martial arts (MMA) — when she signed up with Singapore-based Evolve MMA and will be making her debut at the One: Age of Dragons event in Beijing on November 16.

, ET Bureau|
Nov 07, 2019, 11.35 PM IST
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“Gold to gold hota hai, chhora laave ya chhori.” (Gold [medal] is gold, whether boy brings it or girl.) This was one of the many dialogues that became popular after the grand success of Aamir Khan-starrer Bollywood sports drama Dangal.

Now who doesn’t know about Geeta and Babita, and their mad-for-wrestling father Mahavir Phogat. But did you notice the other two sisters — Ritu and Sangita — and wonder what they were up to? Probably not.

Well, they are also wrestlers. Or at least one of them was a wrestler.

Earlier this year, Ritu made a switch to another combat sport – mixed martial arts (MMA) — when she signed up with Singapore-based Evolve MMA and will be making her debut at the One: Age of Dragons event in Beijing on November 16.

It wasn’t the lack of success in wrestling that drove her away. She won the gold medal at the 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in the 48kg category held in Singapore. She also won the bronze medal in the 48kg category at the 2017 Asian Championships in New Delhi and then became the first Indian to win silver at the World U-23 Wrestling Championships in 2017.

She was also part of the Sports Ministry’s TOPS scheme, keeping in view the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. By switching to MMA, Ritu has missed out on the possibility of representing and winning a medal for India. But Ritu has another take on that.

“Sport doesn’t matter. The aim is to see the Tricolour go up and make our country proud. And that’s what I am trying to do here (in MMA),” says Ritu, sounding somewhat like her filmi father.

“I was always interested in this sports because yeh kuch hatke tha (it was different). I always had this question in mind that why is there no world champion from India (in this sport). That’s the thing that brought me here,” she adds.

Switching from wrestling to MMA is not uncommon internationally, but Ritu is certainly the most accomplished Indian athlete to do so and will fight South Korea’s Na Hee Kim, who has one win under her belt. “I have come from a different sport and this is my first game, so yeah, I am very excited. I have trained well and I have confidence in my training. I want to show Kim how well I have prepared,” Ritu says.

The 25-year-old from Balali, Haryana, has been at the Evolve MMA training centre in Singapore since February. While she is good at wrestling, MMA requires her to be adept at different techniques of combat.

“My fitness was already good, so I didn’t have to change much,” she says. “But I learned new techniques of boxing such as Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) and BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Every day I am learning something new and I think I have improved a lot.” Does she miss wrestling?

“Of course,” Ritu says without taking a pause. “I started wrestling when I was a child. It can never go out of my mind.”
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