With her pro MMA debut going exactly as hoped, Commonwealth Games gold medalist Ritu Phogat is poised to lead the charge for Indian MMA.
MMA is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. The sport in the last decade has captured massive ground and now commands a widespread independent fan following. India, home to over a billion people, stands one of the sport’s most under-explored markets. A figurative trove of riches waiting to be plundered.
The sport of MMA got its first break in the country when former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar made his debut in the UFC. His name attracted a lot of attention, thanks to his already global follow. Since then the sport has grown, both globally and within India itself.
Over the years, with the brand power of Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, the sport has gained even a more solid fan following in India. However, these fans are divided into clusters and have no unifying factor. They’re there, are willing to support the sport, want to see their fighters succeed but because of the vastness of MMA and a lack of promotion they haven’t been able to unite behind a name. In almost every professional combat sport, name matters. Who is fighting has always mattered more than how the fight is going to play out.
Without a familiar name, the Indian market cannot be developed, and it has to be a local star. A perfect example of non-Indian brand failure is WWE’s push of Jinder Mahal. The pro wrestling promotion (or Sports Entertainment if you prefer) never capitalized on the Indian market and their run produced almost no lasting results. However, someone like Vijender Singh, a former Olympic Bronze Medalist and boxing champion, managed to create waves in the Indian market. His events saw huge crowd flocking to his events and even saw strong tv ratings.
MMA, unfortunately, hasn’t seen such a star. But that could soon change. Enter Ritu Phogat.
At ONE: Age of Dragons in Beijing, China on Saturday, Ritu Phogat made her MMA debut. With her that, Indian fans have the chance to rally for one of their own, something that has rarely happened in the sport. Ritu Phogat comes from the famous Phogat family. The entire family came to national prominence after a movie based on their lives, Dangal, became the highest-grossing Indian movie ever produced. The movie focused on the journey of Ritu’s elder sister, Geeta Phogat. Since then the Phogat sisters have become a cultural symbol of female empowerment and today stand as a household name.
Phogat did an amazing job in her ONE Championship debut. She dominated her fight against Nam Hee Kim from the start and secured a first-round TKO win. Phogat displayed a strong skill-set and proved that she’s an elite prospect. Her win was covered by most mainstream media outlets within India. The journey ahead is for sure a long one, but Phogat has made a strong statement in her debut. It is the beginning of a new chapter for MMA in India. And with ONE Championship pushing to beat the UFC and other competitors into one of the last untapped markets in the sport, it could lead to big things for the wrestler.