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 she is ready to show the world the potential of Saudi women in boxing.

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

“The next match is the exhibition we’re having on the 28th and 29th of July,” Fahad said. “I’m really excited about this; we’ve been working hard and it’s gonna be a great event. It’s in Riyadh, in 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 female 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 inside me.

Salma Fahad

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

“Understanding what it’s like to be in amateur fights and actually getting that type of experience made me realize how much I love this sport and how much I wanna 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 inside me.”

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

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

“Usually we begin with jump ropes and a warm-up to help with foot movement and use the speed bag to help with hand-eye coordination. We do some drills with each other, heavy bag moves, heavy bag training, working on the jab, the cross, the hooks — we put them together. We also work on head movements with each other.”

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

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

“Being out there and showing you’re never gonna stop will break the stereotype,” she said. “With society, you can’t please everyone, especially being a female and doing boxing. But you know, I realized that the people who wanna 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 there’s no harm in starting. If you start and stay consistent, you can reach anywhere you wanna reach,” she said.

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

“My family are thankfully very supportive and have 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, inside and outside of boxing, they helped me feel more confident and more comfortable in myself and in the sport. They’re like my second family.”

Saudi-based American boxing trainer, Lee Starks, formed the TKO Fighters team. It is the first women’s boxing team in the Kingdom 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, so 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.”

Boxing continues to grow as a sport for Saudi women, and there is a positive outlook for it in the future. Starks believes that the sport is going to be “really big in the next two or three years for women in Saudi.”

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