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Phogat’s wrestling is two steps away from MMA crown

At the Atomweight Women’s Grand Prix of ONE Championship, Ritu Phogat took less than a minute to show her why her chances of becoming India’s first professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion were in her favour. A quick dip into the boundary of her Philippine rival, Janine Olsim, a successful grab of her left leg, and a single-leg takedown was completed as the fight began. That option remained with him all night as his superior wrestling skills made up for any other shortcomings he might have had. And it helped the Haryana wrestler to increase his record in the professional MMA stream to 7-1.

The 27-year-old atomweight was initially up against undefeated Japanese fighter Itssuku Hirata, who was ruled out due to a non-Covid related illness. Stepped into Olsim and his Muay Thai background.

Wrestling, however, has been the calling card for Phogat’s budding MMA career. And it is clear to see why.

In a sport where mixing and matching multiple disciplines can confuse the best, sticking to your strengths and keeping things simple can often be the key to success. It also helps that his dominant discipline is a sport that remains the tool of choice for champions because of how much control a good wrestler can handle.

Phogat’s wrestling in the first round itself was enough to tame Olsim. But when there was no defense able to stop the opponent’s takedown attempts, Olsim’s grappling and submission was a true test for Phogat. The Philippines tried to lock Phogat in a triangle choke at the end of the first round. But when it became clear that Phogat would not give up, Olsim attempted to transition to an armbar. But the Indian fell out of reach and was reset once again.

Phogat’s takedown was clearly going to win her in the opening round, but Olsim wasn’t completely out of the fight yet. When on her feet, she was clearly the better striker and would have been able to make more use of her five-inch advantage, but for the wrestler in front of her.

One of Phogat’s biggest problems with its game is when Plan A doesn’t work. Typically, the primary strategy involves a takedown which, if successful, turns into a side control that allows a clear fist to the opponent’s face. However against the Olsim, that plan rarely worked.

Olsim’s movements on the ground, when in a defensive position, never allowed Phogat to hold him and open his hands. While the position and points were always in favor of the Indian, the Philippine would always set a trap for Phogat on the ground.

Thus ended Round 2. Triangle had a few attempts but Phogat always managed to slip through them. A few stinging hooks landed but Phogat kept going. There would also be several illegal bounces, due to which Phogat’s neck in the second round was stalled after a few minutes of delay. But the fight continued and Phogat also chalked out Round 2 to his name.

The third round was where Phogat had some trouble. Olsim managed to lock in a tight triangle choke. But Phogat remained calm as the pressure on her neck increased and he showed her the way out of trouble. He then took third on some ground-and-pound strikes to add another win to his column.

Phogat will next face Stamp Fairtex, a seasoned Thai kickboxing legend whose style is similar to Olsim but far more refined. The match is scheduled to take place on December 3. A win there would take him to the atomweight title match.

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