In the sport of mixed martial arts, few names are bigger than UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. In contrast to the fighter from Dagestan, whose 28-0 record is the longest unbeaten run in history, India's Ritu Phogat, currently 2-0 in the One Championships, has a long way to go. Ritu has admitted modelling aspects of her fighting style on Nurmagomedov's, and indeed, she hasn't gone unnoticed.
Nurmagomedov's manager, Ali Abdelaziz singled out the Indian fighter for praise. "Ritu is developing but I know who she is. She's very tough but she's still early in her career. I think she's a world class athlete," Abdelaziz said of Ritu, a former silver medallist in the U-23 Wrestling World Championships.
Abdelaziz, who as CEO of Dominance MMA manages some of the best fighters in the world including UFC champions Justin Gaethje, Kamaru Usman and Henry Cejudo apart from Khabib, suggested the 25-year-old Indian had the potential to reach the top of her sport. "I think if she gets the right team behind her, the right coaches and makes the right moves, she can be a world champion. I really do," said Abdelaziz.
Ritu though is currently fighting with the Asia-based One Championship, a franchise Abdelaziz is looking to get his fighters competing in. "I have over 300 fighters who are looking for a good home. I was speaking to Chatri (Sityodtong- the owner of One Championships) and we talked about bringing some of my free agents into One Championship," Abdelaziz said.
While this means Khabib, whose next fight against Justin Gaethje for the UFC lightweight championship was announced by UFC president Dana White on Wednesday, will be fighting in the American franchise, another Nurmagomedov might be moving to Asia.
"Rashad (Evans) is a free agent, so he might be coming to One championship, (former UFC heavyweight champion) Fabricio Werdum is a free agent and maybe he will go to One. We also talked about Khabib's younger cousin Osman. He's going to be fighting in the UAE this weekend but maybe he could come to the One Championships as well," Abdelaziz said.
Abdelaziz also said he was open to the idea of picking fighters from India. "I manage a guy called KB Bhullar (scheduled to fight in the UFC Contender series in October) who is absolutely great. I've seen a couple of other fighters including Ritu. I think India has a lot more potential though. I think Indians, when they start getting a little more comfortable with MMA, will be getting a lot of good fighters," he says.