It seems a long time ago that Dana White did a U-turn and announced the UFC would be putting on female fights for the first time. ONE Championship was ahead of the curve in this respect and had already been featuring both genders on its fight cards for several months.

But while, in theory at least, women and men now have equal opportunities in the sport Lea Bivins says the environment remains male dominated. The American makes her pro debut at ONE 159 this week after enjoying success as an amateur.

Asked about the most difficult thing aspect of being a mixed martial artist she replied,

“I would say is the female aspect of going into a male-dominated sport, especially because I’m one of the only girls at the gym. Most of my training partners are males. There are a lot of stereotypes about what people expect to see a professional fighter. They don’t usually expect to see a female professional fighter.”


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Role model

Fortunately for Bivins she did not have to look too far to find a role model. The 19 year old says she is a fan of ONE Championship fighters loke Angela Lee and Victoria Lee.

“I grew up watching Angela Lee and Victoria. They’re amazing athletes.”

They ended up training together in Hawaii after Bivins and Victoria Lee bonded while competing for the US national team as amateurs together,

“Me, Victoria, and some of her other United MMA teammates were all on the team. So that’s where that bond and friendship came from. We both placed that year as well. And it’s grown into an amazing friendship.”

She even helped Victoria Lee prepare for her pro debut last year,

“I got to go out there for Victoria’s first pro fight camp. It was amazing, and I was so blessed to even have that type of opportunity. Angela, Christian, Victoria, even Adrian, their youngest brother, they’re all amazing. And to see another martial arts family just like mine that trains even harder? They push a different pace at that gym, definitely. And you can see that when they go out and fight.”


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Different level

Bivins normally trains at House of Moons in Sacramento. She learned some valuable lessons in Hawaii which helped her understand the level of training that is required to reach an elite level in MMA,

“It was amazing to see her professional fight camp, and being able to come back to my home gym knowing the level and the pace I should be pushing to go out there and compete with some of the best in the world.”

She faces Zeba Bano this Friday. The Indian does not have access to the same sort of training partners or facilities and it is a fight Bivins comes into as a favourite despite her total lack of professional experience.

Victoria Lee found herself in a similar situation last year. She made her pro debut in a ONE Championship bout which she was expected to win but it is never going to be easy for a teenager to travel halfway across the world to compete for a globally renowned MMA promotion for the first time.

Fortunately for Bivins she witnessed Victoria Lee’s preparation first hand and thinks the experience will stand her in good stead as she prepares to make her debut,

“Victoria helped me a lot with everything, just becoming a more well-rounded fighter, seeing a different fight camp. Getting taken out of my own home gym and going to a different gym for a different training, that was totally cool to me.”