Ritu Phogat’s fight lands her close to MMA crown

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It took less than a minute at the One Championship Women’s Atomic Weight Grand Prix for Ritu Phogat to show why the odds are in her favor to become India’s first professional mixed martial arts (MMA) champion. A quick dip into the reach of his Filipino opponent Jenelyn Olsim, a successful grab of his left leg and the one-leg takedown were accomplished just at the start of the bout. This option stuck with her through the night as her superior wrestling skills made up for any other shortcomings she might have had. And it helped grappler Haryana extend her record to 7-1 in the professional MMA stream.

The 27-year-old atomic weights semi-final was initially against undefeated Japan fighter Itsuku Hirata, who had to drop out due to an illness unrelated to Covid. In Olsim stepped up and his Muay Thai background.

Wrestling, however, was the calling card of Phogat’s nascent MMA career. And it’s clear to see why.

In a sport where the mix of several disciplines can confuse the best, sticking to your strengths and keeping it simple can often be the key to success. It also helps that his dominant discipline is a sport that continues to be the tool of choice for champions simply because of the control a good wrestler can exert.

In the first round itself, Phogat’s struggle was enough to overpower Olsim. But while the opponent was unable to mount any defense when it came to stopping the pullout attempts, Olsim’s struggle and submission was a real test for Phogat. The Filipino attempted to lock Phogat into a triangular choke towards the end of the first round. But when it was clear that Phogat would not give up, Olsim attempted to switch to an armband. But the Indian slipped out of reach and zeroed in once more.

Phogat’s eliminations were clearly going to win him the first round, but Olsim was not yet completely out of the fight. When standing she was clearly the better attacker and could have used her five inch reach advantage a lot more without the wrestler in front of her.

One of Phogat’s biggest issues with his game is when Plan A doesn’t work. Usually, the main strategy involves an out which, when successful, turns into lateral control that allows clear fists to move towards the opponent’s face. Against Olsim however, this plan rarely worked.

Olsim’s movement on the ground, when in a defensive position, never allowed Phogat to hold her back and let go of her hands. While position and points still favored the Indian, the Filipino would still have traps set for Phogat on the pitch.

This is how Round 2 unfolded. There were a few attempts at a triangle but Phogat still managed to pull through. There would be a few stinging hooks landing, but Phogat kept advancing. There was also reportedly a series of illegal kicks, which caused the bout to stop for a few minutes at the end of the second round after a neck staggered Phogat. But the fight continued and Phogat also entered Round 2 in his name.

The third round was the one where Phogat had a brief moment of dullness. Olsim managed to lock a tight triangular choke. But Phogat remained calm as the pressure mounted on his neck and wanted to get out of trouble. She then finished third on ground and pound strikes to add another victory to her column.

Phogat will next face Stamp Fairtex, a veteran Thai kickboxing legend with a style similar to Olsim, but much more refined. The fight is scheduled to take place on December 3. A victory there will bring him to an atomic weight title fight.



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