New Delhi: Ritu Phogat could well be dwadling on a bean bag in her Singapore apartment, sipping coffee, flipping through a book, or simply watching the world go by through her stainless window. Instead, here she was, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, straddling Nou Srey Pov – her left arm calmly tucked under Phogat’s left knee that allowed the latter’s right hand a free run – in an MMA equivalent of a perfect Friday evening.
“It was an amazing bout. I am really happy to be able to pull off everything that me and my coach had planned,” she would beam shortly after completing her third straight win in what was billed as a classic grappler versus striker showdown.
Two and a half rounds, or roughly seven minutes is all it took for Phogat to canter to a Technical Knock-Out in this One: Inside The Matrix promotion; a commanding, ruthless performance that never gave the Cambodian Kun Khmer world champion a whiff.
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The match-up hurtled towards an anticlimactic finish the moment referee sounded the whistle, with Phogat, upright and imposing, gunning for a double-legged takedown before the clock could complete 60 seconds. Once she had Nou Srey pinned to the wall and later on the canvas, the Indian ensured it was one-way traffic, employing her preferred ground and pound to knock the wind out of her challenger, for whom it was the second loss in three fights.
‘NSP’ did try to hurt Phogat with her knees and some laboured underhooks, but the latter repeatedly got into dominant positions and capitalised. Perhaps dazed by repeated takedowns, Nou Srey could only hold her guard up and try to minimise the damage. It was embarrassingly easy.
Siyar Bahadurzada, Phogat’s coach, had earlier spoken of her much-improved striking, and Phogat had talked about shocking the world with her latest skills. For a brief while that she was needed in the cage, the former U-23 World Championships silver medallist proved it wasn’t a hollow claim.
Phogat was more forthcoming with her jabs and crosses, and on the odd occasion when Nou Srey did find time and space to swing her arms, she ducked and swayed without ever taking her eyes off her opponent.
“I worked very hard on my striking during the pandemic,” she would later say. “I am happy that I was not completely dependent on grappling and showed some striking skills. The coach had told me to implement a particular technique, and if I did it right, he had promised to give me $100.”
The technique in question, she said, was to rain punches on the opponent while trying to bring her down by hooking her legs. It took the 26-year-old no more than 90 minutes to implement it in the second round.
NSP, boasting of a 91-8-2 record in Kun Khmer, came off the blocks in this round with a little more purpose, trying the sidekicks and combination punches, but she was pretty much done the moment Phogat decided that she has had enough. She zoomed in with purpose and had her hapless opponent on her back, who waited for the agony to end.
The right hand moved in and out like a well-oiled piston, pounding NSP’s skull until her face turned red and the referee stopped the fight. The win puts Phogat on course of an admittedly long-shot at the atomweight (52.2 kgs) belt. The said belt is up for grabs after the reigning champion Angela Lee announced her pregnancy last month. One Championship have announced that the new champion would be decided by an eight-person Grand Prix next year.
“It is a very important win for my career. I feel I am a step closer to my ultimate aim, which is to become India’s first MMA world champion,” she said. It won’t be as easy as the Friday evening loll she made her bout to be, but on current evidence, Phogat is going for it.