Over the past nine years, women’s mixed martial arts (MMA) has risen from relative obscurity to the current heights many could not fathom in such a short space 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, and women are finally gracing the biggest stages of the MMA world.
While the unenthusiastic reception of women’s participation in combat sports has totally diminished in the western half of the globe, as witnessed by the megastardom of Ronda Rousey in UFC, the eastern hemisphere has not wholly embraced it.
Religious conservatism and cultural practices help hinder the full acceptance of women’s MMA in Asia, but ONE women’s champion Angela Lee is leading the way in breaking social and gender barriers.
In some parts of Asia that are still a predominantly patriarchal society, Lee serves as a beacon of inspiration to women all over the region that have dreams and aspirations.
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 as on an equal platform in MMA. If men can do wonders, women can do the same.
We should work hand in hand if we want MMA to grow in Asia,” she said. “It will be beneficial for both because it will open doors of opportunity, especially for women who are fighting to gain a foothold in sports and MMA here in Asia.”
Srey Khouch has been living the life of a martial artist from 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, with Srey Kouch winning numerous international competitions with flying colours.
“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 said.
In December 2015, Srey Khouch opted to transition to MMA and made her professional debut, picking up a unanimous decision victory over compatriot Ehpriyanut Phouthong at ONE: Kingdom of Khmer.
Srey Khouch, who is now carving her own niche in the 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 men are physically superior than women,” she said.
Even though many MMA organisations are following suit in holding female MMA fights in the region, Srey Khouch admitted there is still a lot of work to be done before women’s MMA is fully embraced in Asia.
Srey Khouch plans to use MMA as an avenue to promote female empowerment and nurture an 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,” she said.
“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.”
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 February 10 as the huge 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 making women’s MMA acceptable 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 us to break more barriers and pave the way for many aspiring female fighters,” she said.