Three years ago, 27-year-old Ann “Athena” Osman, a Muslim from Malaysia’s Sabah state, started training in mixed martial arts (MMA). Since then, she has joined the roster of ONE Fighting Championship, Asia’s largest MMA organisation, and is fast becoming an inspiration in her home country
By Daniel Besant
Take me through your routine on a typical training day.
Normally I wake up early, about 6am, and maybe do a bit of cardio and strength conditioning just before work. After work we have classes, drills, learn more techniques and skills. It could be boxing on one day, jiu jitsu on another. We have quite a mix of classes.
You have also been doing a spot of coaching yourself, including a number of females. Do you think you have been an inspiration to them?
I hope so. I mean, some of them come up to me and say they want to be like me. I’m flattered of course, but I do tell them they have to keep coming to class and competing if they can. Some have never had any martial arts training, but they’ve dared to go for it and they remind me of myself when I started.
Tell me about your day job.
I’m the business development manager for a property media company, which is like an advertising company. I enjoy my job and I enjoy fighting, so I try to balance my time. As long as I deliver results and meet the target figures my bosses are happy. They don’t give me any special treatment or anything. They still push me, they still make sure I deliver and perform.
When did you first become interested in mixed martial arts?
I’ve always been active, going to the gym, but I think it started when I saw my trainer teaching a Muay Thai class. I tried the Muay Thai class and he suggested I try MMA. This was about two-and-a-half years back. My trainer, AJ, was already pretty active in the sport and had an MMA class at that gym. I was one of the first females in a class of mostly guys but it was still fun. Now I’m just happy to be training with my team, Borneo Tribal Squad, and being part of ONE FC.
Have you received much criticism for being a female, Muslim fighter?
From where I’m from, no. It’s mostly from people who are not from Sabah who maybe don’t understand the way that our society works. Malaysia is a mix of different cultures, religions and races. We have a lot of mixed marriages and it’s more of a modern society. People are pretty much liberal. You see a lot of female fighters in Muay Thai and other traditional martial arts. So I’m really just another female fighter.
So criticism has come from countries that are less liberal than Malaysia?
Yeah, probably. I’m a Muslim, I believe in God. We practice religion in our own way. We’re a more open-minded society. I’m really grateful I’m receiving support from my people here.
Have you had any criticism about the way you dress in the ring?
Well, there were some negative comments. I’m constantly trying to improve myself as a person and also as a fighter. I try not to think too much about those comments. I’m just doing what I feel comfortable with. I’m fighting for passion, for what I want to do.
Why did you choose the name Athena?
We have a rule in our gym that we have to earn our fighting name. It’s not simply given to us, it’s earned through our dedication and if our trainer compliments our training and teamwork. Right after my first amateur MMA fight, he gave me the name Athena. I earned the name.
What message do you have to any female fighters thinking of starting MMA?
It’s a really dangerous world right now, so I always encourage females out there to take up a martial art. There’s nobody else who can protect you. It could be Muay Thai or boxing; whatever gives them that confidence to defend themselves. If they want to join the sport to compete, I say just go for it. I hope to see more female fighters out there.
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