After tasting defeat in the ONE Women's atomweight world grand prix championship final, Ritu Phogat (7-2) knows her next fight will be a pivotal moment in her MMA career.
The Indian wrestling sensation welcomes longtime strawweight fighter Tiffany Teo (10-2) to the atomweight ranks at "ONE 161: Petchmorakot vs. Tawanchai" on Thursday, September 29, and she knows a victory would put her back on the right track.
Teo, a two-time ONE women's strawweight world title challenger, has high hopes in her new division.
But even though the Singaporean is motivated to make an instant impact in her atomweight debut, "The Indian Tigress" is ready to test her skills against the veteran and continue to move forward in her quest for gold.
"Every fight is important for me, but this is even more crucial because I suffered a loss in my last match, and then I got injured, too," Phogat said. "My opponent is an experienced athlete. I am looking forward to this fight and want to make a good comeback."
It's been nine months since Phogat's submission defeat to Stamp Fairtex in the ONE women's atomweight world grand prix championship final, but the Evolve MMA representative has used her time away from the ONE circle wisely.
"The Indian Tigress" battled through an intense schedule in 2021, having fought a total of five times in the past year. In the process, she carried a longtime injury that stems from her days as a competitive wrestler.
However, the time off has allowed her to heal properly, as well as improve her all-around MMA skills.
"I had suffered this injury on my right shoulder during my amateur wrestling days," she said. "Last year, I had to fight with very little gap. The doctor asked me to take a rest, but it was not an option for me then. But after my last fight, I took some time off to rest and make a comeback.
"I had taken some time off just so that I could get back to winning ways. I am up for this challenge, I have worked hard on my skills, and on September 29, I will show the world what I have improved."
Phogat wants to showcase some new tricks
As one of the top strawweight athletes in ONE Championship for the past five years, Teo has developed a fierce reputation, and now that she's moving down a division, she's looking to cause some problems for the atomweight roster.
Despite her opponent's resume, Phogat is not fazed by the Singaporean known as "No Chill." Instead, she sees this match as a great platform to showcase her improvements.
"It's a very important fight," Phogat said. "She is an experienced athlete and people look up to her. But I will show on September 29 what 'The Indian Tigress' can do."
Phogat, a Commonwealth Wrestling Gold Medalist, is known for her impressive takedowns and ground control – and those weapons will almost certainly come into play at ONE 161. But she's also eager to display her skills in other areas.
Simply put, "The Indian Tigress" wants to outstrike the striker and get an emphatic finish that will push her back into the mix for the ONE women's atomweight world title.
"I have tried to improve my striking in the last three-to-four months, and I will try my best to showcase my boxing and striking against her," she said. "I want to knock her out and show the world that they have seen my wrestling and ground game, but I can finish by striking, too."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.