Ritu Phogat in action against China’s Wu Chiao Chen. (Source: One Championship)
It wasn't the first-round knockout that Ritu Phogat had been hoping for, but Friday's decision win should be more reassuring. The wrestler-turned-MMA fighter took Wu Chiao Chen of China down at will over three rounds, taking her MMA record to 2-0.
The Singapore-based One Championship prides itself on sincere martial arts contests and flamboyant presentation. But Friday's 'King of the Jungle' event, a broadcast-only show after coronavirus outbreak forced it to be held behind closed doors, saw each fighter dial it up for those watching at home. The 25-year-old Phogat too grooved down the ramp to the 'Dhaakad' song from 'Dangal'.
The fight itself was a no-frills story of Phogat's takedowns. The one in the opening round took the longest at 76 seconds, her opponent was down in 30 seconds in the next two rounds. In that sense, the fight pretty much followed the template set by Phogat's inspiration, the undefeated Dagestani Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The two began exchanging strikes, and though neither landed cleanly, Phogat's wind-up was enough for Chen to respect the Indian's power. Phogat threw lunging rights, often of the overhead variety, to close the distance. She then trapped Chen against the cage and brought her down with a double leg.
Ritu Phogat was unanimously declared the winner against China’s Wu Chiao Chen. (Source: One Championship)
In MMA, referees can stand the opponents up on account of inactivity on the ground. Phogat, however, did enough to keep Chen pinned. The Chinese, 11 years older than Phogat, showed a lot of heart in the first two rounds. She recovered to get back into a close guard by the end of the opening round and made it to her feet in the second. Phogat didn't let up in the third, launching a flurry of strikes to the head of her downed opponent.
Phogat promised progress and there were improvements in her game from her debut in November. For starters, she didn't allow her opponent to get up because she didn't find the position suitable!
Expectedly, there are gaping holes too. She decided to make do with the half mount, but couldn't effectively advance her position i.e. put herself in a spot to end the fight through a submission or ground and pound knockout. Phogat often spent time in a half mount, and while she landed, less room to extend strikes meant less damage to her opponent. Even the uninitiated could make out that the third round was her most successful, and that is because it was the only instance of her moving from the half guard into a side position.
Wrestler-turned-Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Ritu Phogat. (Source: One Championship)
A question could be, why is advancing guard or moving into a better position so important if Phogat can keep her opponent on the ground, be on top of them and thus record dominating decision wins?
For one, it shows killer instinct if a fighter, after scoring a takedown, is able to then secure submissions and knockout wins. Stoppages are crowd-pleasing and name-building.
More importantly, a wrestler can get a clean takedown but then be trapped from the bottom by a high-level submission expert. Chen, 36, has a JJIF Asian Jiu-Jitsu Championship gold medal and Chinese Taipei kickboxing and sanda championships. But she wasn't lethal with Phogat on top of her. Her guard was closed and there was never a threat of sweeps or submissions.
Phogat's wrestling pedigree serves her well not just in securing the takedowns but to control the opponent's head and wrists on the ground, opening them up for damage. An added threat of submissions will raise her game a few notches higher. And with the progress she's made in double-quick time, it's only inevitable.