“I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THE REAL ME. IT’S NOT ALL RAINBOWS AND SMILES LIKE WHAT PEOPLE THINK. I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THE TRUTH.”

That truth, says Ann “Athena” Osman, is that her journey into the world of mixed martial arts has been one of sacrifice, dedication and breaking down big cultural barriers and stereotypes in a sport largely dominated by men.

Born and raised in Kota Kinabalu in the far Eastern state of Sabah, her fighting roots run deep. Her ancestors are part of an indigenous group in Sabah called Dusun and she says its fighting spirit runs deep in her veins.

“I’ve inherited that fighting spirit. I have a really strong heart in fighting, not giving up and just keep going.”

She started her martial arts career in Muay Thai before transitioning into MMA just three years ago. Fighting out of the Borneo Tribal Squad, the 28-year-old has quickly become the new rising star of Asian MMA.

A media darling, she has drawn interest from media outlets across the globe from the New York Times to Time, FOX, Al Jazeera and Yahoo Sports, and it is easy to see why.

Malaysia’s first professional female fighter, Osman is also Muslim, something that has stirred passionate debate across Malaysia. But amid all the press and all the attention, scrutiny and praise, she remains focused.

“Initially when I trained in mixed martial arts it was for the sake of getting fit and to learn some kind of defence skills. I didn’t really imagine that I would be getting this much media attention,” she admits.

“I’m not in it for the glamour. I’m really focused on my goals, my career and my normal routine,” which for Osman is getting back to business and back to training.

A business owner of Borneo Paddlers, a travel and outdoor adventure company in Sabah, her early success inside the ONE Champion cage has helped to break down barriers, which may have prevented women from Malaysia to even train, let alone compete in MMA.

Since signing with Asia’s biggest MMA promotion ONE Champion, her rise has been nothing short of meteoric.

With tremendous conditioning, fitness and speed, Osman was last year offered a spot on ONE FC’s biggest event at the Dubai World Trade Centre where she faced renowned world boxing champion Ana Julaton and secured the win.

In her last fight in Kuala Lumpur on 13 March, Osman needed just over two minutes to take down Egypt’s Walaa Abbas in the ONE: Age of Champions fight at Stadium Putra.

She submitted Walaa by a rear naked choke after pressing against the cage and taking her down to the floor.

Osman has effective takedowns and powerful ground-and-pound, making her a formidable foe for anybody in the division and it’s easy to assume that a ONE Champion World Title shot is not far away.

“To be the first female ONE Championship world champion, that’s definitely going to be a pinnacle of my MMA career.”

But right now, there’s other things to work on.

“I’m really focused on growing my career and growing myself as an international MMA fighter.

“Being one of the pioneers of mixed martial arts here in Malaysia, I hope to inspire a new generation of female fighters emerging from Asia. I’m just excited to see where this will lead, but I believe this is just the beginning.”