Indian wrestling icon Ritu Phogat is quickly building confidence as a mixed martial artist, after winning six of her first seven fights since making the transition to the Circle.
The 27-year-old “Indian Tigress” recently advanced through the prestigious ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix tournament after emerging victorious at ONE: Empower last month over highly-ranked Meng Bo of China.
Phogat now moves on to face undefeated Japanese judoka Itsuki “Android 18” Hirata in the semifinals at the upcoming ONE: NextGen event, scheduled to broadcast live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday, October 29.
Phogat, now ranked fourth in the atomweight rankings, is excited for the matchup.
“I think the fans realized how interesting the matchup is with Itsuki [Hirata] from a technical standpoint. Obviously, my game tends to take the action to the mat, to take advantage of my wrestling game. Itsuki, on the other hand, is a grappler,” Phogat said.
“Our strengths are very similar, so to see who would win this match is going to be fun for the fans.”
Fans voted for the Grand Prix semifinal matchups through online voting polls. Phogat vs. Hirata presents a battle between two capable grapplers, albeit with vastly different styles. Phogat is, of course, a decorated world-class wrestler, while Hirata comes from a judo background with a knack for submissions.
Hirata is somewhat of a fan favorite in this fight. A lot of hype surrounds the Japanese star, causing many to look past Phogat. But although Phogat has been doubted in the past, she believes she’s now the complete package, and warns fans not to underestimate her any further.
“Everyone knows what I’m capable of, and after that performance, now you have to doubt me at your own risk and peril. I’m the best wrestler in the division, hands down, and my striking game can only improve and get better from here,” Phogat said.
“People underestimate me but I’m very strong for my size. It’s hard to submit someone when you’re being held down and smashed from the guard. I’m not an easy fighter to submit. Many have tried before, and no one has succeeded.”
Phogat’s game plan has always been to take her opponents to the ground where she can play to her strengths. That will still be the case against Hirata, who also prefers a ground war.
Whoever can land a takedown first will have the best chance of ending up in a dominant position. Phogat is confident her wrestling will get the job done.
“I will do what I do best, put her on her back, sit in her guard and ground and pound my way to another win. Just like Khabib [Nurmagomedov], I can tell Itsuki what I’m going to do and she still can’t stop it,” Phogat said.
“I’m supremely confident in my ground game and I look forward to testing strength versus strength with Itsuki.”
ONE: NextGen will see two women make it through to the final round, and Phogat hopes to be one of them.
But first, ONE Championship returns on Friday, October 15 with ONE: First Strike. The main event features a battle for the inaugural ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Championship between Giorgio “The Doctor” Petrosyan and Superbon.