Indian wrestler Ritu Phogat in a shock move announced her decision to join Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), leaving a promising career in wrestling on Monday.
Daughter of wrestling coach Mahavir Phogat and sister of the famous Phogat sisters, 24-year-old Ritu said her dream is to become “India's first-ever World Champion in mixed martial arts”. She has joined Singapore-based Evolve Fight Team.
The 24-year-old is third of the famous Phogat sisters - Geeta, Babita, Ritu and Sangita. In 2017, she had won a silver medal in the 48kg category at the World U-23 Senior Wrestling Championship in Poland.
Phogat will begin her MMA career with Singapore-based Evolve fight team. In a post on a social media, she wrote, “I am excited to have moved to Singapore to begin my new journey in mixed martial arts as a member of the EVOLVE Fight Team. I look forward to the challenge of learning the various martial arts and broadening my skill set as a mixed martial artist. I have a dream of becoming India's first ever World Champion in mixed martial arts and can't wait to represent India on the global stage and make the nation proud."
Her decision has shocked the Wrestling Federation of India, which says Ritu kept them "in the dark" by claiming she was injured. Earlier this month, Ritu had pulled out of the senior women's national wrestling camp, which is underway in Lucknow, citing injury.
Commenting on Ritu's decision, WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar said, "It is quite shocking, but if she has decided to join MMA then it will be curtains for her amateur career. Trust me, I can't believe this, Ritu is one of the most promising wrestlers in India. I hope she knows the consequences as she won't be able to represent India."
"She should have told us. She had called up last week to inform she is injured. She instead wanted her younger sister Sangita to represent the country in her category. We have invested so much in Ritu. It is obviously a big loss for us," added Tomar.
"I have been following MMA for a while and I was very impressed by the sport. I have always wondered why there are no Indians in this sport," Ritu stated.
When being asked what had prompted her to opt for MMA, the grappler replied, "Everyone in our family is a wrestler. People have expectations since I'm Geeta and Babita's sister. I want to fulfill their expectations and hopes, not on the mat but inside a cage."
Explaining that she was more adventurous than her sisters, Ritu said, "Wrestling is my first love. Of course, I am going to miss it, but I am different from my sisters. I just can't wait to get started."
The move to MMA will cost Ritu her chance to win glory for India at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Back home in Haryana's Balali village, her family is very excited. "It is not an overnight decision. Growing up, she was a big fan of MMA. One day she told me that she wants to try her hand at MMA" said Mahavir Phogat, her father.