Saudi teenage boxer knocks out stereotypes

RIYADH: This era is the most promising for Saudi women to be the face of boxing.

The sport is becoming more well known in the Kingdom and more women are taking a leap of faith in pursuing their fighting passions. Saudi amateur boxer Salma Fahad is only 19 and ready to show the world the potential of Saudi women in boxing.

The amateur boxer is part of the TKO Fighters team and spends most of her day at the TKO Gym in Al-Wadi in Riyadh, preparing for her showdown with professional fighters at the end of this month.

“The next match is the exhibition we have on July 28 and 29,” Fahad said. “I’m very excited about this; we’ve worked hard and it’s going to be a great event. It’s in Riyadh, at the Radisson Blu Hotel.”

Fahad has been boxing for eight months. She joined TKO fighters when she was 18 and has aspired to become a boxer since childhood.

“I used to watch boxing on TV, especially women’s boxing, and I felt so inspired,” she said.

After my first fight, even though I got beat up, I took the fight even though I’ve been boxing for a week. It was an eye opener and brought this excitement to me.

Salma Fahad

The Saudi fighter has competed in two official competitions – her first competition took place in Riyadh last year and her second competition was in Kuwait last March. She also had exhibitions throughout the year and sparred regularly.

“Understanding what it’s like to be in amateur fights and getting that kind of experience made me realize how much I love this sport and how much I want to commit to it,” she said. “After my first fight, even though I got beat up, I took the fight even though I’ve been boxing for a week. It was an eye opener and brought this excitement to me.”

Fahad’s passion motivates her to exercise six days a week while trying to stay healthy to keep her weight down.

“You should always wrap your hands to protect them, that’s the most important thing so you don’t injure yourself,” Fahad said.

“We usually start with skipping ropes and a warm-up to help with foot movements and use the speed bag to help with hand-eye coordination. We do some exercises together, heavy sack moves, heavy sack training, working on the jab, the crotch, the hooks – we put them together. We also work together on head movements.”

Fahad’s favorite boxing move is the jab. “It keeps the other person away and opens up all other counters and movements,” she said.

Despite stereotypes about the “masculinity” of the sport, Fahad continues to encourage aspiring fighters.

“If you get there and show that you’re never going to stop, it will break the stereotype,” she said. “With society you can’t please everyone, especially as a woman and boxing. But you know, I realized that the people who want to be inspired will look at it in a positive way.”

“Go for it; you have nothing to lose – boxing has helped me find myself in many ways, and it can’t hurt to start. If you start and stay consistent, you can get anywhere you want,” she said.

Fahad found her team and coach via an Instagram post. She said she is surrounded by a support system from her family, friends, teammates and coach.

“Fortunately, my family is very supportive and has been with me every step of the way,” she said. “My coach and my team really helped me grow as a person. More than just boxing, both in and out of boxing, they helped me feel more confident and comfortable in myself and in the sport. They are like my second family.”

Saudi Arabia-based American boxing trainer, Lee Starks, formed the TKO Fighters team. It is the Kingdom’s first women’s boxing team in 2021. He started with four ambitious young female boxers and led them to the historic debut championship in Riyadh.

“These young ladies and gentlemen came to me, and they were big fans of boxing, and they trained really hard, so after a while we were like, you know what? Let’s create a travel team,” Starks said. “There were only two or three tournaments a year, so we created a travel team that would travel outside of Saudi Arabia and participate in them.”

Boxing continues to grow as a sport for Saudi women and there are positive prospects for the future. Starks believes the sport “will become very big for women in Saudi Arabia in the next two or three years.”

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