Interview with Akram Abdolmaleki: Iranian Female MMA Fighter
Seeing hijabi-clad athletes from Iran competing in sports like running, soccer and rugby are fairly common. What’s not as common is seeing a hijabi-clad mixed martial arts fighter. In fact, I think sister Akram from Iran is the first I know of!
I sat down with Akram to explore her reasoning for choosing mixed martial arts.
What was your upbringing like? I am so blessed that I grew up in a family that everyone loved sports. My father was one of the first Judokas in my province and my brothers pursued the same passion and they were always the top two in Iranian tournaments. I was also 8 years old when I put on my first judo gi and took my first Judo session from my father and it was his love and care that gave me the motivation to stick with the art of Judo for 9 years and then ultimately kickboxing.
What was your main motivation for competing? I was always competitive. My competitiveness was not only to win every match but I always wanted to make sure that my dad was proud of me as a girl growing up in a Muslim country. In another way, I was sort of competing with my brothers as well. I wanted to prove that as a woman we can earn the same respect as men and any time my father praised me in front of my brothers, I felt so good and more victorious that any match I have ever been to.
What was your migration to kickboxing like? As my brothers were competing in judo I decided to become a champion in kickboxing and that is how I found myself in kickboxing rings, fighting for belts. I loved getting punched in the face and every time I fought a hard fight I was more excited to know what was next for me.
What sort of success stories did you have while competing? I won many different events in local, national and international levels in Muay Thai and kickboxing. In 2004 I was honored to be selected as one of the female representatives of Iranian National team and the following year I won the Iranian Judo National championship. In the same year I married one of the most caring and amazing kick boxing coaches for Iranian Sanshou National team, coach Mehdi Oodbashi
In later years, I won the Turkish Thai kick Boxing championship in 2011 and in 2012 I competed in World Martial Arts Festival and defeated fighters from Finland, Turkey, Norway and Vietnam and won the championship.
How did you eventually learn your grappling? In 2006 to have a better quality of life my husband and I traveled to Brasil through a job agency for work and we lived there for two years and worked as welders which was a tough job for a woman and meanwhile we started learning Brazilian Jiu jujitsu in Luis Mazes Academy in Belém in the province of Pará. I got my purple belt in Brazil and I was very interested in testing my BJJ skills when we came back so I stayed very active in that matter
How did you eventually become an MMA fighter and what are your goals with the sport? Training and competing in Judo, Jiujitsu and kickboxing gave me all the tools to blend and become an MMA fighter. I love competition and my goal is to one day be in ONEFC and win their belt. I want to make my family and my country proud and I want to be an inspiration and good example for all those women that live in countries that women have a small role in sports and send them a message that sports are not just for men.
What are some challenges you have in the sport? As you know, MMA is a new sport and it is hard to find fights here especially for females. This has been the biggest struggle to me. I have one loss in my professional career and I am currently 0-1. My loss was because I was forced to accept a fight in Armenia with someone who 8 kilograms heavier than me and I took the fight just because that was the only option I had or I would have to wait for another year.
What advice do you hope to give other aspiring female Muslim fighters? Competing in hijab doesn’t have to limit you. It can be beautiful. I hope to prove to the women in this country that this isn’t a man’s sport anymore.
In 1979, after the Islamic Revolution, Iranian authorities banned women from most sporting events. To keep up the ban, the government warned restaurants and cafes not to show the games on television — otherwise, male and female customers might watch together.
The injustice is captured perfectly in the piece of graffiti seen above — a woman in an Iranian national team jersey holding up a bottle of dishwashing soap labeled “jaam,” which means “cup.”
Iran has probably the coolest jersey in the asian cup.
The cheetah on the Iranian jersey is an asiatic cheetah, an endangered species which mostly exists in Iran, Iranian national soccer team put them on their kit to bring and raise awareness about their plight.