When parents are picking a career for their daughters it is doubtful whether ‘mixed martial’ artist features prominently on many lists. Fortunately these days most young people get to decide for themselves and Zeba Bano knows exactly what she wants to do,

“When I used to win medals at the national level (in wushu) no one would seem to care. But after joining MMA, I started getting noticed. So, I decided to pursue MMA,” she explained.

The Indian atomweight has a 6-0 record and faces Wondergirl Jaroonsakgym at ONE 157. She has been training in martial arts since childhood,

“When I was in school, martial arts was not popular, and I didn’t have much knowledge about it. But after seeing it for the first time, I took interest in it and decided to join wushu.”

Dim view

But Bano started to encounter resistance. While her immediate family was supportive many of her relatives took a dim view of her choice of career,

“My family fully supported me, but (some of) our relatives were against it since we are from the Muslim community. They didn’t like me wearing shorts and and they would say mean things to my father,” she said.

The abuse started to get quite personal according to Bano,

“Some members of my family have told me several times that if my limbs get broken I will be of no use and then who would marry me?”

Competitive success

While she was meeting resistance outside of the ring Bano enjoyed competitive success in wushu for several years,

“I competed at district and national levels in wushu. I was in the Sports Authority of India for five years and trained in Delhi. I won two gold medals at the national level.”

She transitioned to kickboxing and started to enjoys success in this sport too,

“Once I reached the senior level, I started training in kickboxing, where I won four golds at the national level again. I also won the flyweight title at the K-1 competition in Kerala.”

New career

Eight years ago Bano decided to use her striking skills to pursue a career in MMA,

“I started my MMA training in 2014. It was not popular in India then. My ground game used to be really weak. Only because of my hard work have I been able to make name for myself.”

Looking back she thinks that the people who tried to stand between her and her martial arts ambitions actually helped her to succeed. The desire to prove them wrong was a real source of motivation for the young Bano,

“I actually want to thank the people who have tried to demotivate me (because) they have played an important role in helping me. Instead of minding other people’s business, they should motivate their children to do well.”

In India life can be tough for young girls. Bano thinks that this culture can make it difficult for them to pursue dreams in sports which aren’t perceived as being feminine,

“Even today, people don’t want to let girls compete in martial arts. But through this huge platform, I want to represent India on the global stage and want to be a source of inspiration for people.”

Role model

She sees herself as a role model and is excited to be competing on the international stage for the first time with ONE Championship,

“I am really excited. Now that my hard work is bearing fruits, I am really looking forward to my debut,” she said.

She faces a difficult task because Wondergirl is a seasoned Muay Thai veteran who has been working on her ground game for several years. But Bano dreams of holding the Indian flag aloft after beating the Thai star,

“I want to thank all the Indian fans who have been supporting me. I have only been able to reach here because of their prayers. I will raise the tricolor after my win and make everyone proud.”