As the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, Indian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athletes feel that having sporting events in these times helps recreate and rebuild the positive environment which is actually a key ingredient for people to stay positive in these testing times. Indian wrestling champion Arjan Bhullar, MMA fighter Ritu Phogat, Gurdarshan Mangat and Roshan Mainam will be featuring in the upcoming ONE: DANGAL a tape-delayed event from the Singapore Indoor Stadium that airs on Saturday.
In an interaction with ANI ahead of the fight, the MMA stars opened up about the challenges they faced last year, their training amid the pandemic and how sports gives people the option to look forward to something during the gloom.
“I think in a challenging time, people need hope they need something to be happy, they need heroes. Sports bring everyone together, sports makes people happy, it distracts from everyday routine. So I am always pro-sports especially in these trying times,” said Arjan.
“I have family and friends dealing with this, we are helping out as much as we can as family. Everyone must come together at these difficult time, help your neighbour out, help your community out. Our heart is with everyone dealing with COVID in India,” he added.
Commonwealth wrestling gold medalist Ritu admitted that the COVID situation has affected her but the MMA fighter is happy to bring a smile to the face of her fans amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Yes, the COVID situation does affect us but I am focusing on my fight. Overthinking about the pandemic can divert our concentration. So my whole focus is on my fight right now,” said Ritu.
“I know how the situation in India is right now, so I try to spread positivity on my social media amid these testing times,” Ritu said.
“Sports should go ahead in these testing times as it brings a lot of positivity among people. Also, it would be nice to see smiles on the face of our people during these times,” she opined.
Gurdarshan, who would be locking horns with compatriot Roshan Mainam, admitted that sports cannot solve the COVID problem but he knows it can help people develop an everlasting bond.
“If you could get something for a moment whether an hour or a couple of hours of escape, it would be nice and I guess that’s what sports does,” Gurdarshan, who is also known as Saint Lion, told ANI.
“It can bring a nation together for a moment, I am not saying it can solve COVID, it’s not gonna save lives but it could give moments where you can come together and celebrate something. We need sports,” Gurdarshan, said.
In the showpiece event, Ritu, who will square off against experienced veteran Bi Nguyen, will bank on her improved form over the last year.
“My opponent is very experienced and she has good standing game but I have confidence in my training and I am ready to take her on,” Ritu said.
“It would be interesting to see the toss-up between striking and wrestling. I learnt a lot of things during the lockdown and improved my striking. I used the time to hone my skills,” Ritu added.
Arjan will be challenging Filipino-American superstar Brandon Vera for the ONE Heavyweight World Title and the Indian athlete is looking to be “more dangerous” than his opponent to get over the line.
“This is a world championship fight, this the most important fight of my life so that’s enough to get the required motivation I need. I’ll be more dangerous than him,” said Arjan.
Talking about the upcoming fight, Gurdarshan said he was “shocked” to know that he has to face his friend Roshan Mainam in the showpiece event.
“Roshan is a friend of mine. He is somebody whom I speak to, he is somebody who I have mentored and given advice to. I have known him before the ONE Championship,” Gurdarshan said.
“I was kind of shocked to know that I would be fighting with him, not because I am afraid of him but because of the friendship we have,” Gurdarshan added.
Having contracted COVID in October last year, Gurdarshan revealed that he took up fasting to build on the endurance.
“I trained hard last year amid the pandemic. I am proud of the endurance I have built. I also fasted a lot more, I took up intermittent fasting and fasted more than 15 hours,” Gurdarshan told ANI.
Meanwhile, Roshan will be relying on submission techniques to dominate the game as he gears up for the fight on Saturday.
“Gary is more like my big brother and we’ve been supporting each other for years now. He is way more experienced than me and I’ve learnt a lot from him,” said Roshan.
“For this match especially, I’ll leverage my ground game and rely on submission techniques to finish at a dominant position. My grappling experience will enable me to withstand Gary’s power-packed striking and may the best man win,” Roshan added.
Further talking about his training for the upcoming fight, Roshan said, “COVID has been a testing time for us athletes as well people in general. Yes, one has had to be a lot more cautious while training but where there is a will, there definitely will be a way.”
“So I have made sure that I’ve been on the ball with my training by exploring ways to socially distance myself and yet focus on the game. As they say, adversity breaks some and makes some break records, I am prepping up for the latter,” he signed off.
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