Puja ‘The Cyclone’ Tomar is one of India’s biggest names in the popular MMA promotions in One Championship who has seen a childhood full of hardships, struggles and privation. After losing her father at an early age of seven, Puja had to take up farming in order to take care of her mother and two sisters.

After she grew a little older, she decided to take up wushu, also known as Chinese Kung Fu, to earn some extra income and as it turned out, Puja was better than the rest of the crowd. She went on to become a five-time Gold medalist at the National Wushu Championship and even represented her country in the Wushu World Championships.

In 2013, she decided to take her talents to the octagon MMA cage. Having participated in the Super Fight League in New Delhi and winning her first two bouts in first round knockouts, the Uttar Pradesh athlete received an invite to compete in the One Championship and she grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

However, her transition to a professional MMA fighter wasn’t easy with the main thorn in her side being the people of her village. “I come from a small village of Budhana where a lot of people were against my choice of career,” Puja told MensXP.

“They used to say ‘she’s a girl, she can’t go outside, she can’t play. What if she breaks her legs? How will she get married?’ and they were not happy with me practicing MMA,” she added.

But it was too late to sway Puja’s mind. She had already dedicated her life to the craft and there was no looking back for her.

The Steadfast Nutrition athlete took her first international trip to Indonesia where she lost to Muay Thai expert Tiffany “No Chill” Teo who locked her in an armbar after four minutes into round one. Since then Puja has fought four more bouts at the elite platform and has even picked a win against the local favourite Priscilla Gaol back in January 2019.

Now a veteran, Tomar has done multiple international tours but she misses homemade food. “We don’t get food like India when I am travelling, and I miss our food whenever I go abroad,” she said.

Looking back at the inception of her career, Puja believes that India has experienced a massive boom in the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts and more and more athletes are making it to big stages to fight on an international level.

“When I started practicing MMA, it wasn’t as famous as it is right now. Even One Championship also has a lot of fighters from the Indian origin. I believe India will grow by leaps and bounds in the octagon cage in the future,” she said.

If there is a wish that Puja were to be granted, it would be to bring about the kind of recognition and fame Indian cricketers receive to MMA athletes. “I hope we also get the kind of recognition cricketers do. The sponsors and the kind of support they get from the Indian population, I really wish something like that can be seen for us as well. If that happens, MMA Fighters will also grow and make their country proud,” the athlete said.

Lastly, Puja believes that even though India has come a long way, women in this country continue to face major challenges when it comes to personal safety. In order to deal with such issues, she highly recommends taking up any form of martial arts. “It is brilliant from the fitness perspective and also for self defence,” Puja further added.