Competing at the Olympic Games is the dream of most athletes but Indian wrestler Ritu Phogat has always wanted to script a different destiny.
Phogat won gold at the 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship but switched to the combat sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) in February, much to the disappointment of India’s wrestling federation who saw her as a strong medal contender in the 48kg category at Tokyo 2020.
“It never crossed my mind,” she told Reuters by telephone from Singapore where she trains. “I always wanted to do something different. Script my own journey on the international stage.
The 25-year-old is from one of India’s most famous wrestling families.
She started in the sport aged eight, under the tutelage of her wrestler father Mahavir Singh and followed in the footsteps of her elder sisters Babita and Geeta, who have both won Commonwealth Games gold.
“We struggled to fit into society,” Ritu Phogat said. “Our family was surrounded by naysayers in those early days, but we had each other for support. Together we found a way to block out all the outside noise.”
MMA is the third-most popular sport in the world, behind soccer and basketball, according to Nielsen. India alone accounted for nearly 100 million viewers last year, Rajesh Kaul, the head of Sony Pictures Networks India’s sports business, told the Hindu newspaper March.
“I see this sport growing by leaps and bounds in India,” she said. “My debut will be shown live on TV and I hope it inspires the next generation … Our country is changing. Young girls now have a platform for take up any sport.”
“My natural style makes it much easier to control all the takedowns … I hope I can use that to my advantage,” she said.