Asia’s Top Cage Fighters Show Skills to Vulnerable Young Women

Some of Asia’s top mixed martial arts stars on Thursday gave about 150 students and staff of anti-human trafficking organization Agape International Missions a taste of the hard-hitting world of cage fighting, showing them skills and techniques to defend themselves with in the real world.

The Christian NGO, which was recently featured on CNN’s Freedom Project documentary series, assists children and young women in Cambodia who are victims of or at risk of sexual abuse.

Malaysian mixed martial arts star A.J. Lias Mansor teaches combat skills to a girl under the care of anti-trafficking NGO Agape International Missions at an event at NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Simon Henderson/The Cambodia Daily)
Malaysian mixed martial arts star A.J. Lias Mansor teaches combat skills to a girl under the care of anti-trafficking NGO Agape International Missions at an event at NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Simon Henderson/The Cambodia Daily)

The organizers of One Fighting Championship (ONE FC), which is debuting in Cambodia with an event at NagaWorld Casino in September, thought the NGO was the perfect match for its fighters to show a softer side of the sport and its transformative potential.

Malaysian ONE FC star Ann “Athena” Osman, 28, joined her superstar trainer and countryman A.J. “Pyro” Lias Mansor on the mat in NagaWorld and taught the eager young women some of the sport’s basic moves.

As they punched, kicked and threw each other to the ground, their spirit and will to learn was evident—and with a few grimaces on show—so was their strength.

“We got to have a real bond with the girls and teach them some MMA [mixed martial arts] and a lot of them are really interested—some of them were coming up to me saying that they never knew there were female fighters ever,” Ms. Osman said, adding that she hoped Thursday’s session would be more than a one-off event.

As the training was limited—for now at least—to a single session, the goal was not to try and teach the Agape students mixed martial arts skills, but rather to demonstrate that women and girls have the capacity to protect themselves.

“I always believe that not only in Cambodia, but women everywhere need to be able to protect themselves—this is why I started MMA.”

Ms. Osman founded and runs a successful travel business back in Malaysia, but despite having a day job, she took up mixed martial arts three years ago because she felt it was necessary to protect as well as support herself.

“Most of all, I want [the Agape students] to leave here knowing that they are strong and that they can make a change for themselves, chase their dreams and fight for themselves, that’s what I want—its not just martial arts,” she said.

The high-profile matchup shows the added attention the CNN documentary brought the organization, its founder Don Brewster said.

“ONE FC came to us after CNN’s one-hour documentary and said we have this idea that we could help you out, and here we are,” Mr. Brewster said.

Agape operates its own Khun Khmer boxing gym for young Cambodians and has developed 11 fighters to professional level. Mr. Brewster said he hoped the relationship with ONE FC would continue and help some of them graduate to mixed martial arts in the future.

But his NGO also operates its own undercover anti-human trafficking task force. Loren Mack, the public relations director for ONE FC, said the members of this undercover force were blended in secretly among the novice fighters Thursday.

“They have had some training before, but to be honest it’s very rare that that’s necessary—but today’s event is to help them in case they do need it,” Mr. Brewster said.

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