‘Destined to be a fighter’: Trailblazing Pakistani women MMA fighters enter the cage

The picture posted on June 15, 2022, shows Pakistani MMA fighter Anita Karim during a match in Lumpinee Muay Thai Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand. (karimanitamma/Instagram)
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Updated 31 May 2023

‘Destined to be a fighter’: Trailblazing Pakistani women MMA fighters enter the cage

  • MMA is a relatively new sport in Pakistan, remains a male-dominated sport globally
  • Women players in Pakistan say have had to face resistance from family and friends

ISLAMABAD: Mixed martial arts may have started as a male-dominated sport around the world, but women, including in Pakistan, are grappling their way to pursuing it as a full-time profession and representing their country internationally.

Meet Anita Karim, 26, the first international female MMA fighter from Pakistan, who got into the sport initially to learn self-defense but later turned her passion into a career choice.

MMA is a full-contact combat sport that combines boxing with wrestling, jujitsu, taekwondo, and other disciplines, both standing and on the ground. Fighters can attempt to knock out their opponents or force them to submit by using various submission holds. In recent years, MMA has gone from a perceived “blood sport” to mainstream global sports entertainment, and while it is yet to be adopted as an Olympic game, it is the world’s third most popular sport, behind football and basketball, according to Nielsen Sports DNA, a leading international analytics company.

Women’s MMA has been around since the 1990s but it was Olympic judo medalist Ronda Rousey’s signing in 2012 with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) that helped bring it to the general public.

Even Karim had to face resistance from society, and she had to reassure people that she could protect herself in a cage from punches, kicks, elbows, and chokeholds.

“I came to Islamabad from Hunza in 2016 and started training for MMA in 2017, mainly to learn self-defense techniques, but it gradually became a passion,” Karim said in an interview with Arab News.

“Initially, when I opted for it as a full-time profession, I had to listen to remarks about how MMA was a sport for boys. They would question whether I was capable of doing it or not and they used to say I should learn household chores instead, but I was determined that if I worked hard, I would get my desired results.”

Karim has participated in several national-level promotions and represented Pakistan three times at the Singapore-based ONE Fighting Championship, Asia’s largest MMA organization, included on Nielsen's list of the world's top 10 biggest sports media properties in terms of viewership and engagement.

The picture posted on May 9, 2019, shows Pakistani MMA fighter Anita Karim (right) at the Singapore-based ONE Fighting Championship. (Anita Karim/Facebook)

Karim has also participated in the Fairtex Fight Promotion in Bangkok twice.

“When I went abroad, people over there were initially surprised to see a female fighter from Pakistan. But now, a lot of girls are getting ready for their MMA careers and will be performing internationally in the near future,” Karim said.

The fighter said even if girls did not want to pursue MMA professionally, they should still learn self-defense techniques:

“Girls should not see self-defense as a leisure activity, but they must learn it to protect themselves in Pakistan … I request everyone, especially working women, to learn self-defense as it gives you confidence, and when you have confidence, you can handle all kinds of difficulties.”

Bushra Ahmad, 27, an amateur MMA fighter, said the sport had helped amplify qualities she already had.

“I had no plans to start it as a full-time career as I had casually joined a gym in 2018 for workout sessions, but I observed that whatever it takes to be an MMA fighter, I had that in me: I was confident, I was very disciplined, I was always on time on the mats, and I could take punches,” Ahmad, who represented Pakistan in the IMMAF World Championship in Serbia earlier this year, told Arab News.

The picture taken on February 14, 2023, shows Pakistani MMA fighter Bushra Ahmad during her International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) fight in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo courtesy: Instagram/Bushra Ahmed)

In fact, she said, the sport chose her.

“I did not decide to choose MMA as a profession, it came to me as I was destined to be a fighter,” Ahmad said.

But despite her commitment to the sport, it has not been an easy ride.

“I have been asked a lot as to why I am doing this … how much am I earning from this profession, so that has been a challenge,” Ahmad said. “Besides, there are not many MMA gyms in Pakistan, there are very few female fighters, fewer events, and since I am from a higher weight category, it’s hard for me to find an opponent.”

But despite their passion, Karim and Ahmad both lamented that lack of governmental support was holding back many talented fighters like themselves and blocking the development of women’s MMA in Pakistan.

“There have been no facilities or help from the government to develop MMA in Pakistan, and so far, MMA has earned a name for itself in the country through self-help,” said Karim.

“Some of our top athletes need sponsorship because they are not financially strong, so they can’t manage it. In this way, our fighters are wasting their talent. If the government promotes MMA like cricket and helps the sport grow, we can produce lots of top athletes from Pakistan too.”

Shoaib Khoso, the director-general of the Pakistan Sports Board, did not respond to questions for this story but Babar Raja, the president of the Pakistan Mixed Martial Arts Federation (PMMAF) said most MMA events in the country were conducted and sponsored by non-profit associations like the PMMAF and the Mixed Martial Arts Pakistan (PAK MMA) group.

“Each year, the federation gives incentives to MMA fighters by organizing competitions for both men and women and we pay the winners Rs500,000 ($1,774) in each weight category to encourage them,” Raja told Arab News.

“Unfortunately, there is no help or support on the part of the government. In fact, people in power at the Pakistan Olympic Association, as well as the Pakistan Sports Board, take steps to discourage this sport, therefore, we have to rely on private sponsors.”

But Bashir Ahmad, the founder of PAK MMA group, said that the government’s involvement in the sport would only increase bureaucracy.

“I don’t think the government should be too involved, as even without any support from it, MMA in Pakistan has already grown step by step and at a pretty solid pace,” he said.

Both Ahmad and Raja, however. hoped more girls would come forward and join the sport."

“I think the future of Pakistani girls pursuing MMA as a full-time profession is very bright as it’s not only one of the fastest-growing sports in the world but is also one of the world’s highest-paying sports,” Raja said. “And while there are very few women fighters from Pakistan, they are becoming champions on both national and international levels, so more women should pursue this sport.”

Many of Karim and Ahmad’s male colleagues also advocated the need to encourage more women to join the sport.

“In my opinion, more women should learn self-defense as it could be a life-changing experience for them,” Shahzaib Ijaz, a male MMA fighter from Islamabad, said.

“That’s because at the end of the day, it’s your own responsibility to protect yourself, and that’s the message we try to give to women. People think it’s a male-oriented sport, but women also have hands and legs, so they can do it as well.”

Former World Series champion Dennis Cook named manager of Baseball United’s Falcons franchise

Updated 8 sec ago

Former World Series champion Dennis Cook named manager of Baseball United’s Falcons franchise

  • Former MLB pitcher Dennis Cook to team with ex-New York Yankees slugger and Baseball United co-owner Nick Swisher, who will serve as the franchise’s honorary general manager
  • Swisher, who was recently in Dubai for the launch of the Falcons franchise, will also play a role as a color analyst for Baseball United’s television broadcasts

DUBAI: Baseball United, the first-ever professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, has announced that former Major League Baseball World Series champion Dennis Cook will lead the Abu Dhabi-based Falcons franchise as their first-ever manager.

Cook embarks on this journey armed with 15 years of experience at the MLB level, as well as recent coaching experience at Northwestern University. Cook pitched for several MLB teams, including the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, and New York Mets. He won a World Series title with the Florida (Miami) Marlins in 1997.

Cook will team with Baseball United co-owner and former New York Yankees All-Star Nick Swisher, who will serve as the team’s honorary general manager. Swisher also won a World Series title in 2009. The two former MLB stars will work to create a winning culture at one of the Middle East’s first-ever professional baseball franchises.

“Dennis is an amazing addition to our Baseball United team,” said Kash Shaikh, CEO, chairman, and majority owner of Baseball United. “He’s a proven winner, with meaningful contributions to a lot of winning ball clubs for a decade and a half during his MLB career. Since then, he’s stayed wired into the game at the amateur, professional, and international levels. You can feel his passion in every conversation, and he will be an amazing ambassador for the game here in the UAE. I can’t wait to see him on the field leading the Falcons.”

Cook pitched over 1,000 innings at the MLB level, amassing more than 60 wins and over 700 strikeouts, shifting from starter to relief pitcher for the majority of his career. Cook was also a good hitter and is No. 2 on the list of Major League All-Time Best Hitting Pitchers between 1973 and 2003 (with 100 or more at-bats).

On the international stage, Cook served as Team Sweden’s head coach in 2010.

“I’m honored to be named the manager of the Falcons,” said Cook. “It’s been so exciting watching Baseball United develop, and it’s a blessing to now be a central part of this journey. I’m truly grateful to Kash, John Miedreich (executive vice president of baseball operations), and the entire team for giving me the opportunity to be part of something incredibly special. The credentials of this ownership group are outstanding, and we have the right people to execute this remarkable vision. I can’t wait to work alongside Nick to help make the UAE proud.”

Swisher, who was recently in Dubai for the launch of the Falcons franchise, will also play a role as a color analyst for Baseball United’s television broadcasts.

“I continue to be grateful for the opportunities that Baseball United has awarded me,” said Swisher. “As an investor and co-owner, my goal was to be an active participant in the creation and growth of this league. Now, not only will I be able to call the games from the broadcast booth, but I’ll be able to help shape the roster of one of our flagship franchises. The best part — I get to partner with Dennis to make it all happen.”

The Falcons will start play during Baseball United’s first season, slated to begin in November of 2024.

Al-Ittihad’s match against Iran’s Sepahan officially cancelled due to Qasem Soleimani busts in stadium

Al-Ittihad’s match against Iran’s Sepahan has been officially cancelled due to busts of Quds Force commander
Updated 2 min 15 sec ago

Al-Ittihad’s match against Iran’s Sepahan officially cancelled due to Qasem Soleimani busts in stadium

  • Saudi team and officials refused to enter the stadium which displayed busts of Quds Force commander

RIYADH: Al-Ittihad’s AFC Champions League match against Sepahan of Iran has been officially cancelled after the Saudi team and officials refused to enter the stadium which displayed busts of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who was killed by an American drone strike in January 2020.

The Saudi champions were scheduled to kick off their second Group C match in the competition at 7pm KSA, but indicated they would not take part until the statues were removed. After requesting a delay of half an hour to assess the situation, the Saudi delegation immediately left the stadium to head to the airport and back to Saudi Arabia.

The AFC issued the following statement on the matter:

“The AFC Champions League 2023/24 Group C match between Sepahan FC and Al-Ittihad FC, which was scheduled to take place at the Naghsh-e-Jahan Stadium in Isfahan tonight, has been cancelled due to unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances. 

The AFC reiterates its commitment towards ensuring the safety and security of the players, match officials, spectators, and all stakeholders involved. 
This matter will now be referred to the relevant committees.”



NBA, Mavericks and Timberwolves to engage with youth players in UAE

Updated 02 October 2023

NBA, Mavericks and Timberwolves to engage with youth players in UAE

  • ‘Jr. NBA Week’ will return to Abu Dhabi and bring together more than 2,500 youth and 250 coaches from the local community and region
  • The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2023 presented by ADQ will feature the Mavericks and Timberwolves facing off twice at Etihad Arena

ABU DHABI: The National Basketball Association has announced a series of social impact programming for youth, coaches and basketball stakeholders that will be hosted in collaboration with the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2023 presented by ADQ.

The week of activities, which will be highlighted by the return of Jr. NBA Week to Abu Dhabi following its debut in 2022, will run from Monday Oct. 2 until Sunday, Oct. 8 and reach more than 2,500 youth and 250 coaches from the UAE and across the Middle East and Europe. 

Jr. NBA Week will feature youth clinics and basketball development programming focused on teaching the game, promoting health and wellness, and empowering the next generation of players, coaches and referees, and will feature appearances by Mavericks and Timberwolves players and coaches, NBA and WNBA legends, and USA Basketball Youth and Sport Development coach director, Don Showalter.

The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2023 will feature the Mavericks and the Timberwolves playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Oct. 5 and Saturday, Oct. 7.

The event follows last year’s preseason games between the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks, which marked the league’s first games in the Arabian Gulf.  

Blitzers, Pearls, Thunderbolts and Marvels register wins in ILT20 Development Tournament’s opening weekend

Updated 02 October 2023

Blitzers, Pearls, Thunderbolts and Marvels register wins in ILT20 Development Tournament’s opening weekend

  • Six squads finalized through a Player Draft are competing in the 18-match contest in Dubai
  • Preparations for DP World ILT20 season 2 in full swing following the success of first edition

DUBAI: The Blitzers, Pearls, Thunderbolts and Marvels have recorded impressive wins in the opening weekend of the ILT20 Development Tournament.

The contest is aimed at providing an opportunity for UAE players to grab 13 spots still up for grabs in the DP World ILT20 season two.

In the tournament opener, player of the match Usman Khan’s unbeaten 68 off 52 balls (nine fours, one six) ensured a comfortable seven wicket win for the Blitzers. The 115-run chase was delivered without any major hiccups, with 20 balls to spare.

Earlier, the Marvels lost opener Mayank Choudhry on the tournament’s very first ball, and struggled to get going in their innings after being asked to bat first. Young all-rounder Aayan Afzal Khan top-scored with 24 runs while captain Basil Hameed scored 20. Uzair Khan and Muhammad Zubair took three wickets each as the Marvels were bowled out for 114 in 18.1 overs.

The Pearls recorded a 19-run win against the Dynamos in the second match on Saturday — a competitive 151 for eight in their 20 overs. Asked to bat first, the Pearls were well served by their opener Aryansh Sharma who scored a blazing 63 off 41 balls with the help of six fours and two sixes. All-rounder Zawar Farid (player of the match) had a memorable game as he first contributed 26 useful runs with the bat in a 42-run fifth wicket partnership with Aryansh before taking four wickets with the ball.

The Dynamos got off to a flying start but failed to maintain the momentum as wickets fell at regular intervals. Opener Samal Udawaththa top scored with 28, and Muhammad Shahdad made a 23-run contribution. Zawar gave away a mere 20 runs in his 3.4 overs for his four wickets. Adhitya Shetty was also impressive with the ball, at three for 27.

In the opening match on Sunday and third of the tournament, Asif Khan’s 87 not out (59 balls, six fours, six sixes) for the Braves went in vain as the Thunderbolts powered through the 166-run chase for the loss of five wickets.

The Braves were asked to bat first and posted a competitive 165-run total on the back of Asif’s blazing innings, the opener hitting some lusty blows to propel his side past the 160-run mark. Junaid Shamzu smashed 31 off 10 balls (two fours, three sixes) in an unbroken 65-run alliance with Asif.

The Thunderbolts chased down the runs courtesy of an unbeaten 19-ball 45 by Ansh Tandon. The left-hander hit two fours and five sixes in his brilliant innings. Captain Rohan Mustafa scored 43 off 36 balls (six fours), and the Thunderbolts completed the chase with three balls left. Haider Ali took two wickets.

The Marvels registered their first win when they defeated the Pearls by seven wickets in the second match on Sunday. Batting first, the Marvels could only manage a paltry 121-run total. Player of the match Muhammad Zuhaib and Aayan Afzal Khan took four and three wickets respectively as the Marvels struggled to get going.

The 122-run chase was duly completed by the Marvels in 17.2 overs. Opener Mayank Choudhry top-scored with 47 off 49 balls (five fours, one six), and captain Rahul Chopra scored an unbeaten 31 off 23.

Ronaldo targets first AFC Champions League goals for Al-Nassr against Istiklol

Updated 02 October 2023

Ronaldo targets first AFC Champions League goals for Al-Nassr against Istiklol

  • The Portuguese legend is the record goalscorer of the UEFA Champions League with 140

Al-Nassr captain Cristiano Ronaldo will look to get his AFC Champions League goalscoring account up and running on Monday night when the Riyadh giants welcome Istiklol of Tajikistan to Al-Awwal Park in the second round of matches in Group E.

The Portuguese legend is the all-time record goalscorer in the UEFA Champions League with 140, in a career that saw him win the competition once with Manchester United and four times with Real Madrid.

The match will be Ronaldo’s third in Asia’s premier club competition, having taken part in a successful qualifier against Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai, and on Group E Matchday 1 against Persepolis of Iran, which Al-Nassr won 2-0.

Ronaldo is currently the top scorer in the Roshn Saudi League with 10 goals, four ahead of his nearest challengers, after eight rounds of matches.