Singapore: “Don’t underestimate me,” says India’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) star Ritu Phogat as the former wrestler is rearing to silence her critics in the next bout on Friday. After being counted out and underestimated since she made the transition to mixed martial arts in 2019, the fourth-ranked atomweight contender has grown in both skill and confidence, and has put together a string of impressive performances to erase all doubt.Also Read - India's Ritu Phogat to Face Stamp Fairtex in MMA Finals

“Don’t underestimate me because I have the power, I have the strength to prove you wrong. Watch out, don’t underestimate me at all,” a fired up Phogat said in a recent virtual faceoff interview with ONE Championship. Also Read - Win Against Itsuki Hirata Can Put an Indian Woman on Global MMA Stage: Ritu Phogat

Most of the criticism being hurled at Phogat surrounds her striking ability. Also Read - Independence Day 2021: Mary Kom to Virender Sehwag, How Sports Fraternity Wished Fans on 75th I-Day

Coming from a predominantly wrestling background, being a member of Indian wrestling royalty, Phogat is an ace on the mats. However, the striking aspect of mixed martial arts is a completely new field of competition for her. Naturally, fans question her ability to mix it up with some of the best strikers in the world.

While Phogat has been working hard on her striking skills at Evolve MMA in Singapore, she says her style combines both worlds into one seamless approach.

“People sort of underestimate my striking because they haven’t seen much of my striking yet. All the while, wrestling has been my strongest weapon and I continue to leverage this to pin down my opponents,” Phogat said.

“I will continue to capitalize on this to emerge victorious in my upcoming fights. Definitely striking is an area that I am improving in and you would get to see a lot of it in the upcoming matches.”

Phogat is scheduled to make her return to the Circle opposite the Philippines’ Jenelyn Olsim in the semifinal round of the historic ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix, which resumes at ONE: NextGen and broadcasts live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium this Friday.

Olsim steps in as a late replacement for Phogat’s original opponent, undefeated Japanese judoka Itsuki Hirata, who was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to a non-COVID related medical issue.

The sudden change in opponent hasn’t seemed to bother Phogat one bit.

“I’m confident about my abilities and my training. I know that I can take on anyone. So definitely, it’s not something that shakes me up,” Phogat said.

“I wouldn’t want to underestimate my opponent. Yes, I’ve seen certain gaps but I don’t want to disrespect my opponent by calling her out in a public forum. I learned it well while I’m ready to fight Olsim, I wouldn’t want to speak much about her weaknesses. I think Jenelyn deserves the spot in the Grand Prix too.”

If she can beat Olsim, Phogat will book herself a ticket to the final round to square off with the winner of the other semifinal matchup — a showdown between third-ranked atomweight Stamp Fairtex and Grand Prix alternate Julie Mezabarba.

There’s certainly a mountain of pressure on Phogat to perform. But “The Indian Tigress” says the pressure is something she has learned to deal with over the past few years.

“I’m usually untouched by pressure. I don’t allow myself to get overwhelmed or intimidated by pressure. I know that I am prepared and I follow the course of the game plan,” Phogat said.

“All I’m focused on is to wind up the match at the earliest. I want to wrap it up as soon as I can.”