MIXED MARTIAL ARTS legend Cris Cyborg is optimistic about the growth of mixed martial arts in Africa after attending the inaugural MMA Zambia Symposium last month.
Die Bellator women’s featherweight champion was the guest of honour at the event in the Zambian capital of Lusaka last November, which was held to further shine a light on the sport.
During her time in Zambia, Cyborg visited an orphanage and taught a women’s self-defence course.
When asked of her time in Zambia, Cyborg, real name Cristiane Justino, aan SunSport gesê: “Dit was [an] amazing experience, I will be back.”
Along with growing the sport, Mixed Martial Arts Zambia ‘will look to encourage more Zambian women and girls into the sport of MMA‘.
MMA Zambia’s first symposium coincided with the launch of Africa’s first and only Women’s Commission.
Former UFC champ Cyborg said: “I think women’s MMA will grow a lot. You really have to dedicate [yourself] to training, trust in your coach – he’s going to tell you when you’re ready to fight. And believe in and trust the journey.
“So train hard, do your best, the fight will eventually happen and you’re going to be ready.
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“And for MMA getting bigger in Africa, I think it needs more people like Ben [Bush].”
Daarbenewens, the newly government-recognised association aims to utilise the sport ‘as a metaphor for life lessons and [raises] awareness on topics including gender-based violence, dwelms, and alcohol abuse, mental health, and other issues which affect disadvantaged children’.
The aims of MMA Zambia – in particular the association’s vulnerable youth programme – resonated with Cyborg, who knows first hand of MMA’s ability to empower those who are less fortunate.
Sy het gese: “Being a world champion is a big responsibility. Whatever place God puts you in, if he makes you a champion, it’s not to be champion for yourself, it’s for something else, whether it be to make a difference in the world and to change people’s lives, but I want to be Champion of Hearts for my people.
“That’s why I really like what Benjamin is doing here in Zambia with MMAZ (Mixed Martial Arts Zambia) using this sport of MMA.
“This sport helped me get strong, even though it’s hard, I keep working to come back stronger every day.
“So, this project helps to empower vulnerable youth and women and to bring awareness to the sport in this country as a tool for positive social change for its people and their communities.
“It is this part of my life that I enjoy the most, helping others wherever I am and using my experience and platform as an example to give hope to people of having a better life.”
The presence of Cyborg at the symposium was a huge step in the right direction for Mixed Martial Arts Zambia.
President Benjamin Bush said: “This was massive because Cris for us represents everything we are about in terms of female empowerment and gender-based violence awareness.
“And it was the perfect opportunity for us to launch the Women’s Commission, which is the first in Africa.”
MMA Zambia became part of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation family last July but have already made great strides in their goal to utilise the sport for youth empowerment and social change.
In Oktober, Bush said: “There is so much interest in MMA, if it’s not football then everyone is talking about Mixed Martial Arts.
“Young men and women either want to grow up to be football stars or be the next Amanda Nunes or Israel Adesanya. It is literally that big of a deal here.
“We want to use that momentum to empower the youth of Zambia, to use the sport for positive social change, to aid economic empowerment through sport and to create future champions.
“The recognition by the government provides us with the authority and support for the safe implementation of functional development and regulatory structures, in other words, MMA Zambia can ensure the integrity and safety of the sport whilst using the sport to make a difference.
“We can literally embed values, training programs and progression pathways into the sport’s development that will uplift young people and empower them whether they find success as athletes or not.”
Tans, only three gyms in Zambia are able to teach MMA to an IMMAF standard, which has prompted a push for coaches in the country to achieve certification from the governing body.
But with the seeds for tangible social change now planted, Bush is optimistic MMA Zambia, and the sport itself, will have a profound effect on youngsters throughout the country.
Hy het gesê: “MMA Zambia believes that the sport of MMA can change lives not just through athletic endeavour, but also through its inspirational qualities, the values within martial arts practice, the work ethic and sportsmanship within combat sports and the personalities the sport will create.
“With Zambia being a developing economy, the rich/poor divide is significant and many people live below the poverty line.
“This leads to various issues such as youth unemployment, children taking on the role of providers, street vagrancy, and many other issues that lead to fractured communities such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, GBV and much more. MMA can do its part to tackle these issues directly.
“We would not be a productive federation if we did not care about the communities around us. We want to use our platform to uplift others and we want to do it in a way that works with the government and their international partners to further their long-term agendas for youth development.
“The sport and its popularity can be used to inspire others. We have developed a vulnerable youth program that uses MMA to tackle all the above issues and more, mental health, gender-based violence, drug and alcohol abuse, literacy, entrepreneurship, etc – all through MMA.
“We intend to combine this into our sports development strategy encouraging the program’s uptake across the country. We want to create role models for future generations. We want to make a difference and we are grateful to be working with IMMAF to realise our goals.”
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