New Delhi: At first glance, there's nothing menacing about Nou Srey Pov. At 155 centimetres, she is not an imposing presence in the cage, her reach is not great, and she is not known to engage in explosive verbals. It only takes a solitary viewing of her dismantling of Rika Ishige to think differently though.
Nou Srey Pov, or 'NSP', as she is commonly known, employed her famed Kun Khmer skills on her Thai opponent in a one-sided win last February, highlighted by a breathless volley of combination punches and blinding pace. It is hard to believe that the said bout was her One Championship debut. Talk of looks being deceptive and so forth.
Come Friday, 'NSP' will meet 'The Indian Tigress' in Singapore in their One: Inside The Matrix showdown. It will be a third professional bout for both women, and while Phogat maintains a clean sheet, the Cambodian stumbled in her second fight against Indonesia's Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol.
Phogat's strengths are no secret. Bred on a rich wrestling pedigree, the 25-year-old relies on her brute upper body strength to grapple with her opponents before employing the 'ground and pound' finish. Wrestling continues to be her foundation, and while she is obviously not short of power, her striking does remain a work in progress.
In her recent media interaction, Phogat alluded as much. Guarded in her responses, she nevertheless made it clear that grappling alone is not going to be her only weapon against the slippery Cambodian. She spoke of "shocking" her opponent with her versatility and going beyond her wrestling decree.
Nou Srey, likewise, is open to adapt. She anticipates an impending grappling slugfest and has honed her defences for what promises to be a classic grappler versus striker match-up.
"It is a difficult task ahead, and me and my team have taken the steps necessary to nullify Phogat's strengths and showcase mine," she told Firstpost in an exclusive interaction.
"I've watched her fights. She is very fast and has dangerous grappling skills. She is full of energy and strength. I need to be careful from the opening round and try to escape from those difficult wrestling positions," Nou Srey, who comes from a traditional farming family in Phnom Penh, added.
In terms of strategies, Nou Srey made it clear that her famed Kun Khmer skills will be her go-to option. Kum Khmer, or Pradal Serey, is a traditional Cambodian boxing form. It is a stand-up martial art but unlike boxing, the practitioners are allowed to use their elbows too.
"I know Ritu is an experienced wrestler and has won many international medals, but I have my strategy for her. I will be looking to utilise my Kun Khmer skills against her," she said.
Nou Srey's warning is not hollow bombast. To floor Phogat, she has trained under coaches Alan McCune and Kru Rith Chea from the Kun Khmer Warriors Fight Team, besides finetuning her grappling and takedown defence at the Kiri Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Cambodia. She has also apprenticed with the Cambodian national wrestling team, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu exponent Fernando Salvador has honed her combat skills. Add to it the fact that Nou Srey happens to be a trained boxer " she represented Cambodia in boxing at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games " and Phogat may be facing her toughest test yet.
In her nascent MMA career, the Indian has shown her desire to dominate early and control the bout. Her first rounds are typically pulsating, characterised by multiple throws and attempted takedowns. The punches, while standing, are few and far between.
Nou Srey, who holds a 91-8-2 professional record in Kun Khmer, has taken note. Her first goal is to survive the early assault and engage Phogat in a standing combat to allow her boxing skills to take over.
"My hand speed, which comes from my boxing background, is an advantage. If I can remain standing to trade strikes for the entire first round, I am sure I have a chance to win. I think I have great punches. I am fast and mobile," she observed.
Whatever be the result of their bout tomorrow, one can be certain that 'NSP' will not go down without a fight. Coming from an impoverished family of seven siblings, giving up school to work in a garment factory in order to help her family meet ends, and eventually finding a way to channelise her rage, Nou Srey Pov " who once contemplated quitting because there were no female opponents in her country " has come a long way. She plans to use her success to pave the way for women fighters in her country. Against Phogat, whose family's struggles have been well-documented in the press and on celluloid, she has her chance.