Over the past nine years, women’s mixed martial arts rose from relative obscurity to noticeable heights that many could not fathom in such a short span of time.
The once male-dominated sport has been infiltrated by women equipped with equal prowess to engage in high-testosterone action, at times even with more gusto than their male counterparts.
After years of being told that they “just weren’t good enough” and that there “wasn’t enough girls to form a legitimate bracket”, women are finally gracing the biggest stage of the MMA world.
While the unenthusiastic reception of women’s participation in combat sports has totally diminished on the western part of the globe, the eastern hemisphere has not wholly embraced it.
Religious conservatism and cultural practices somehow hinder the full acceptance of women’s MMA in Asia, but ONE Women’s world champion Angela Lee is leading the way in breaking social and gender barriers.
In some parts of Asia that still operate in a predominantly patriarchal society, Lee serves as a beacon of inspiration to women all over the region that have dreams and aspirations.
As there is a stark contrast in acceptance between east and west, a highly-touted Cambodian fighter seeks to join Lee in her advocacy to push the boundaries for female MMA athletes in Asia.
Vy Srey Khouch believes that women have an important role to play in growing the sport of MMA in Asia.
MEN AND WOMEN SHOULD BE LOOKED AT ON AN EQUAL PLATFORM IN MMA. WE SHOULD WORK HAND IN HAND IF WE WANT MMA TO GROW IN ASIA.
“It will be beneficial for both because it will open doors of opportunity, especially for women who are fighting to have a foothold in sports and MMA here in Asia,” Srey Khouch added.
Srey Khouch has been living the life of a martial artist at an early age. With the influence of her grandfather who is an avid follower of Kun Khmer, she started to train and learn Cambodia’s beloved unarmed martial art in her hometown of Phnom Penh.
Ever since she tried out, success came her way. Srey Kouch aced numerous international competitions with flying colors and became Cambodia’s national pride.
“I can say that I love competing and fighting. I really love it. It’s no surprise that my passion is now my profession,” Vy Srey says.
In December 2015, Srey Khouch opted to transition to MMA and made her professional debut, picking up a unanimous decision win over compatriot Ehpriyanut Phouthong at ONE: Kingdom of Khmer.
Srey Khouch, who is now carving her own niche in the constantly-expanding world of MMA with an immaculate record of 2-0, has never felt ostracised because of her decision to be a prizefighter.
“I grew up training with men. I also have teammates who are men. There are many times that I was able to beat them in training. It doesn’t mean that men are physically superior than women,” she recalled.
Even though many MMA organisation are following suit in holding female MMA fights in the region, Srey Khouch admitted that there are lot of work for women’s MMA to be embraced in Asia.
Srey Khouch plans to use MMA as an avenue to promote female empowerment and nurture a newfound understanding of women in sports.
“ONE Championship is a great platform because the organisation has a large audience. I get an opportunity to promote this sport and save it from the empty stereotypes,” Srey Khouch stated.
According to the 25-year-old Cambodian fighter, there is no need to negotiate femininity and masculinity in terms of athleticism as stereotypes will not stop her in becoming the best in what she does.
“I want to be the best, that’s it. I do not do it for fun or to show something. I do it because I am good at it,” she said.
Srey Khouch will have the chance to further cement her billing as one of the up-and-coming women’s MMA competitors in Asia on 10 February as a gargantuan task of handling Malaysian MMA superstar Ann Osman awaits her.
Both women are set to square off against each other on the main card of ONE: THRONE OF TIGERS, which takes place at the 12,000-capacity Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Srey Khouch believes that her three-round cage encounter with Osman will be beneficial in raising the level of women’s MMA acceptance in Asia.
“I have a lot of respect for all the effort that she has done to give women a positive image in Asian MMA. This is an opportunity for both us to break more barriers and pave the way for many aspiring female fighters,” she ended.