By Jazz Singh Gill – MMA would right now not be at the historic height it is at without the courageous individuals willing to break barriers. Sanja Sucevic is one of these individuals.
Already regarded as one of the best female fighters in the world, the Serbian was asked after her spectacular victory at Super Fight League 1 to take the unique position of coach to female Indian fighters on the reality TV show SFL Challengers.
“I was really excited to be given the opportunity to do the coaching. I felt it was a dream come true to be asked to fight for the SFL and being asked to coach on the SFL Challengers show was a real honour. India is a beautiful country with such nice people, I will always be grateful to Raj Kundra for the chance to be part of the Indian MMA movement.”
The Indian movement has been in full swing since SFL 1 but the one area that has always had issues has been in getting Indian women to participate. One of the original concepts of the SFL was to show India that the MMA world values its female fighters as much as the males. With this thought in mind, Sanja was headhunted as one of the world’s best flyweights to showcase what female fighters are capable of in the SFL.
However, despite her spectacular showing, as well as the great performances of the other female fighters during SFL 2 and 3, there was still a lack of volunteers from the Indian women. From a land that prides itself on demure, ladylike women, female fighting was always going to be a taboo area.
“People maybe do not understand just what a huge step it was for MMA for the SFL to get Indian women participating” says SFL Chief of Operations Dan Isaac.
“When we did a callout for male fighters for the SFL Challengers show, we literally had hundreds of fighters to choose from. But with the women? We did not even have one, literally not even one female Indian fighter that came to join the SFL. We had to actively go out looking for female fighters, approaching all types of gyms and camps to see if we could find participants. Eventually we did and we found some great potential, in the likes of Gurleen Kaur and especially the winner Manjit Kolekar”.
With legendary female boxer Mary Kom now on board too, the SFL has everything need to provide a clear opportunity for female fighters to get involved in MMA. Sanja agrees with Dan Isaac, seeing the fact that the SFL had to really search and dig for female fighters means that they could have unearthed some real diamonds.
“These girls joined the SFL Challengers show without any real MMA experience, turning up with nothing but motivation and desire trying to become real fighters. To go through this on TV was a very hard thing to do but the girls are very smart and talented and they progressed really well.”
The show did not just help the Indian women grow as fighters, Sanja also feels her time as a coach helped her become a better fighter too.
“I became really close to the girls, they were such a lovely group. I found it really difficult to watch them fight each other in the end. It was a beautiful experience though and it has helped me learn too. Now I wish to one day open my own gym and train more fighters.”
Getting in the psyche of the Indian girls was perhaps not too difficult for Sanja, as she too comes from a country where female athletes are still not yet common.
“I am the only female fighter in Serbia, so I am quite well known in my home country and everybody is happy that I compete in the SFL. In Serbia football is more popular but MMA is rising and in a few years we will have many more fighters from Serbia.
“I got into MMA after I started Muay-Thai. I had been learning Muay-Thai for a while and my coach and I decided I should get into MMA from there.”
From a rear-naked-choke stoppage win on SFL 1 to the female coach on the hit reality TV show SFL Challengers, Sanja is now a full-blown star in India. Yet any air of expectation does not weigh heavy on her shoulders, even if she is facing teenage sensation Irene Cabello.
“I really don’t feel any pressure even if I am now a recognized figure in India. I just feel proud to be the first female fighter to win a professional fight in India. Even though I won by submission stoppage in my last fight I still know I made a lot of mistakes on the ground. Irene Cabello is a good young boxer but I plan to finish her on the ground in the first round.”
Whether she feels it or not, there will be a lot of pressure on Sanja at the time of her fight. Now as a role model to lots of young female fighters from Serbia to India, this fight is one of the most anticipated female bouts in MMA this year. Sanja simply plans to use it to encourage other females to get involved in the sport she love so dearly.
“I hope that lots of people watch my next fight because I really want to show them – especially the girls – that MMA is not a bad sport. I want to show them how much I enjoy MMA and I hope it will inspire girls to compete just like me.”
Sanja Sucevic has a pivotal role to play not just in the SFL, but in the whole of MMA too. In a land that worships female Goddesses, Sanja is on the cusp of becoming an idol herself.
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