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“Valetudo girls”, born to fight

MATTEO CONGREGALLI

 

We are used, anymore, to think about the boxing or the martial arts as male sports. Just think about  Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, Rocky Marciano, Mike Tyson, and the first think coming to your mind will be an image of power and virility. The recent success of the mixed martial arts (MMA), a particularly violent combination of boxing, Thai-boxing, judo and wrestling, usually fought in a cage, is no stranger to these same stereotypes. 

Gli organizzatori di un evento MMA osservano una cintura destinata a uno dei vincitori.

The organizers of a MMA event observe a belt destined to one of the winners.

The match scheduled for the next 26th of August between the American boxer Floyd Mayweather  and the Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor is a suitable example. The match was defined the “the battle of history” by the organizers, and the promotional tour is imbued with the same kind of flaunted masculinity that surrounds this discipline that, no holds barred, earns millions with the pay-per-view. But there is another world. A world made of women who, facing the stereotypes of a violent sport dominated by men, decided to bandage their hands, wear the boxing gloves, get in the rings and earn titles and fame, punch after punch, round after round. 

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The French athlete Ludivine Lasnier gets prepared for the match with Ruqsana Begum for the Straweight division title.

In the UK the increasing popularity of the martial arts brought an interest toward the female MMA, with regular matches held all across the country and often broadcast worldwide by cable television. Neither the warnings by the Medical Association, according to which this kind of fight would increase the risk of concussions and damages to the brain, reduced the number of the athletes eager to fight. 

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A fighter warms up before a match with the help of her coach.

“The fighters I meet in the backstage are often more focused on looking tough than on fighting well”, tells Ruqsana Begum, champion of the atomweight division and captain of the English team of  muay-Thai, during an event organized in London, in which take part regularly fighters coming from Europe and Asia. Ruqsana comes from Bengal and she is Muslim. During her career she had to fight not only the stereotype related to her gender. She had to face also the limits set by her culture and her religion, training in secret, hiding her passion for muay-Thay. Hoping to encourage other Muslim girls to get in the ring, she conceived a sportive hijab.

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The French fighter Ludivine Lasnier celebrates, still in the ring, after she won the strwaweight title of the KTMMA federation,

In the United States, the fighters in the cage are often fiercely criticized. The republican Senator John McCain defined this sport “a human cockfighting” because of its violence. This sport was even illegal in the State of New York until last year. Also overseas, the attention toward the female MMA doesn’t seem to decrease. The Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC) has an entirely female division that led to the glory fighters such as Ronda Rousey who, after two clamorous defeats against Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, now is shifting to the wrestling for the World Wrestling Entertainment.

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Ruqsana Begum, Muay Thai champion and captain of the English Olympic team of Muai Thai, few seconds before getting in the ring against Ludivine Lasnier.

 

In Italy the MMA and the martial arts matches are still underground. However, the interest for this sport is growing. In 2016 the first circuit for MMA was launched: it is called Magnum FC. Last April, the American MMA federation Bellator attracted around 15 thousand fans in Turin for a mixed martial arts event.

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Ruqsana Begum, Muay Thai champion and captain of the English Olympic team of Muai Thai, training in the KO Gym of Bethnal Green, London.

The Italian fighter  Annalisa “No Fear” Bucci recently signed right with the Americans of Bellator and, with Micol Di Segni, she appears among the fighters of the Extreme Fighting Championship. This is the proof that in this country a new generation of fighters are managing to compete at an international level.

 

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