My heart and soul is into MMA, says Fatemah Moslemi
Iran's hijab-wearing Mixed Martial Arts practitioner, Fatemah Moslemi talks to mid-day about her attitude and Fight Night where she plans to impress spectators and ex-heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson in Mumbai later this month
Iranian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athlete, Fatemah Moslemi will set some eyes rolling even before she makes her first move to combat India's Priyanka Jeet Joshi during the first-ever Fight Night of the Kumite 1 League (K1L) at the National Sports Club of India (NSCI) Dome on September 29. Spectators at the Worli venue will be surprised to see her sporting a hijab.
But there's more to Fatemah, 39, than what she wears over her head and neck. The fact that she is out there competing is a victory in itself. Back home in Tehran, she went against her parents' wishes (father Mohamad and mother Masoumeh) to take up the full-contact combat sport and turned professional last year.
"Nothing is easy in life. To achieve what you want, you have to sacrifice a lot of things. Even though my family was against me fighting at first, they understand me now. My heart and soul is into this," she said from Tehran. Fatemah is a product of MMA talent-scouting in Iran and sincerity has been at the heart of her success. "My father taught me one very important thing — to be honest in every situation. I sometimes wish I took up this sport earlier, but age is not a problem because you can do anything you want in life anytime. My journey has just started," she remarked.
Fatemah Moslemi with her husband Behnam
Conversations surrounding the use of the hijab are inevitable. In 2017, American sportswear giants Nike designed the first hijab for high performance women athletes, but Fatemah wore one long before the launch. "Hijab-friendly sportswear definitely makes it easy and comfortable, but we have been wearing it for fights for a long time and it's part of our system now. New age sportswear is a good alternative, but I am okay with what I have been using all this while," she said.
The controversial side
There is a controversial side too. Recently, Indian chess players and shooters withdrew from events held in Iran because they would be forced to wear hijabs while competing. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do, they say. I understand it is difficult for people who don't wear a hijab to suddenly wear one. But we also need to understand that in every country there are laws for a reason and as law-abiding citizens, we must respect them. I live in a religious country in which we have to wear a hijab," reasoned Fatemah.
Focus on fight: Mike Tyson
She hopes to impress former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who will be in Mumbai as the league's mentor and guest of honour. The controversial boxer didn't read too much into the use of the hijab in MMA. "I think we should focus on the fight and not what fighters wear. I would love to see more and more women participate in MMA. It is a very tough life. It's not at all easy to choose a life like that, so let us all respect the spirit," Tyson told mid-day.
American tennis star Serena Williams's post-pregnancy catsuit caused a big debate at the last French Open and it won't be allowed again at Roland Garros. Fatemah opined: "People should respect a person and not judge [her/him] based on how one dresses. You do not judge a book by its cover. I always respect Serena for her achievements and being such a motivation for all women out there."
Fatemah makes it to Fight Night in Mumbai as a confident fighter, who has done enough of the hard yards to deserve success and kudos. "My husband [Behnam] trains me and doubles up as my fight partner. He is tough with me during our practice sessions. At the same time, he encourages and supports me emotionally. All this only makes me stronger," said Fatemah.
While Behnam plays her ideal guide, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) star Ronda Rousey, who won a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is her idol. "I admire Rousey a lot. No matter the situation, she always puts her best foot forward. Even when she loses, she vows to get back and fight better with more power," felt Fatemah, who dreams to compete with Rousey in the cage someday.
Deeds can inspire. Words too. In Fatemah's case, this particular quote from Rousey provides her a dollop of motivation: "You have to fight because you can't count on anyone else to fight for you. And you have to fight for people who can't fight for themselves. To get anything of real value, you have to fight for it." Fatemah seems to be doing just that.
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