We are used to thinking about boxing or martial arts as men’s sports. Just think about Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, Rocky Marciano, Mike Tyson, and the first thing that comes to your mind will be an image of power and virility. The recent success of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a particularly violent combination of Boxing, Muay Thai, Judo and Wrestling, usually fought in a cage, is no stranger to these same stereotypes.

The organizers of a MMA event observe a belt destined for one of the winners

 

The match scheduled for the next 26th of August between the American boxer Floyd Mayweather and Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor is a suitable example. The match was coined the “Battle of History” by the organizers, and the promotional tour was imbedded with the same kind of flaunted masculinity that surrounds this discipline that, with ease, earns millions through pay-per-view subscriptions. However there is also another world. A world made of women who, facing up against the stereotypes of a violent sport dominated by men, decided to bandage their hands, wear boxing gloves, get in the rings and earn titles and fame, punch after punch, round after round.

French fighter Ludivine Lasnier prepares for the match against Ruqsana Begum for the Straweight division title.

 

In the UK the increasing popularity of martial arts brought an interest toward the female MMA, with regular matches held all across the country and often broadcast worldwide via cable television. Even with warning from the Medical Association, according to whom this kind of fighting would increase the risk of concussions and brain damage, has not reduced the number of the athletes eager to fight.

A fighter warms up before a match with the help of her coach

 

“The fighters I meet backstage are often more focused on looking tough than on fighting well”, tells Ruqsana Begum, champion of the atomweight division and captain of the English Muay Thai team, during an event organized in London, in which fighters coming from Europe and Asia regularly take part. Ruqsana is a Muslim of Bangladesh background. During her career she has had to fight not only the stereotype related to her gender, but also the limits set by her culture and her religion, training in secret, hiding her passion for Muay Thai. Hoping to encourage other Muslim girls to get in the ring, she conceived a sport hijab.

The French fighter Ludivine Lasnier celebrates, still in the ring, after she won the strwaweight title of the KTMMA federation

 

In the United States, the fighters in the cage are often fiercely criticized. The Republican Senator John McCain defined this sport as “human cockfighting” because of its violence. The sport was even illegal in the State of New York until last year. Also overseas, the attention towards female MMA is not diminishing. The Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC) has an entirely female division that has brought glory to fighters such as Ronda Rousey who, after two clamorous defeats against Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, is now shifting to the wrestling for World Wrestling Entertainment.

 

Ruqsana Begum, Muay Thai champion and capitain of the Muai Thai English olimpic team, few seconds before getting on the ring against Ludivine Lasnier.

In Italy MMA and martial arts matches are still underground. However, interest for the sport is growing. In 2016 the first MMA competition was launched: Magnum FC. Last April, the American promotion agency “Bellator MMA” attracted around 15 thousand fans in Turin to a mixed martial arts event.

Ruqsana Begum, Muay Thai champion and captain of the English Olympic team of Muai Thai, training in the KO Gym of Bethnal Green, London

 

The Italian fighter  Annalisa “No Fear” Bucci recently signed her rights to Bellator and, with Micol Di Segni, she will appear among the fighters in the Extreme Fighting Championship. This is proof that in this country, a new generation of fighters are managing to compete at an international level.