The Real Scam Behind Iran’s Underground Female MMA Fighting

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On May 27, a video of what appears to be a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fight between two women started making the rounds on Iranian social media.

The match, which took place in the outskirts of Tehran, caught the attention of many. It was the first time that an underground MMA fight – banned for women in the Islamic Republic – was taped. But according to our observer, this video actually shows a widespread scam that takes advantage of female MMA hopefuls.

Like underground female bodybuilding competitions or ballet dancing, these female MMA tournaments are kept secret but are well known to athletes and journalists in Iran. Now, for the first time, a video of this phenomenon has been released.

The video, which according to our Observer was shot in Shahriar, a suburb of the Iranian capital Tehran, shows two women fighting MMA style in a boxing ring located in what appears to be a private villa. We hear two other women coaching the fighters and a man advising the referee what to do.

A video published on Telegram on May 27 shows an underground female MMA fight in Iran. © Observers

In the less than two minute video published on Telegram in Iran on May 27, two Iranian women are seen in an MMA fight. Neither woman is wearing the headscarf. Some men and women watch the fight while two women coach the fighters.

This MMA fight seems to be the latest example of women pushing the boundaries of the Islamic Republic’s ban on certain activities for women, both in public and as part of the Iranian underground scene.

But according to our observers and experts inside and outside Iran, this video actually depicts a deep scam targeting intrepid Iranian women who hope to become professional MMA fighters.

“It’s a scam. These women are victims’

Behzad Majidi is an Iranian sports blogger based in Switzerland who covers MMA fights, especially Iranian fighters.

Perhaps at first glance, this video might make us happy, even proud, to see Iranian women trying to push the boundaries in the Islamic Republic. But on closer inspection, it actually shows a sad, complex scam these women have fallen victim to.

You can see the scam in the video. There are two levels of MMA fighting: amateur and professional. What we see in this video should be a professional level fight because the women are not wearing any protection on their heads and legs [Editor’s note: professional MMA fighters do not wear protective gear during matches]. But these women are fighting at an amateur level.

According to Behzad Majidi, the actions of the two fighters make it clear that they are amateurs:

At the amateur level, fighters are not allowed to perform certain techniques, or to hit their opponent when they are down. But in this video, the women hit each other even when they fell.

Obviously they have no idea what they are doing and they are beginners. Their coaches are also beginners and have no idea how to train them. As we can hear in the video, even the referee is a novice: a man coaches the referee on how to move, where to look and what to pay attention to during the fight.

The fight took place a few weeks ago at a villa in Shahriar, a suburb in southwestern Tehranan [Editor’s note: local media in Iran also confirms the location of this event].

Our observer, well known in the field of MMA in Iran, believes that the women in this video, like others, are victims of a fraudulent scam:

The organizers of these underground battles are three men who have special ties to the Iranian Martial Arts Association Federation, which make them untouchable.

What they actually do has nothing to do with the sport; they are not trying to develop Iranian female MMA fighters. They are just running a lucrative business by scamming these young women.

They charge money to prepare these fighters for a real MMA fight. They lure these young women by telling them that if they win their fights, they can earn a lot of money in fights organized abroad by signing contracts with famous organizations, such as the Russian “ACA” [Editor’s note: Absolute Championship Akhmat, a leading martial arts organisation].

They manipulate the fights in Iran between novice girls and pick a few. The selected girls are sent to neighboring countries like Armenia or Georgia to fight against real MMA fighters.

The real scam is here: Anyone wanting to fight in a professional championship must have done about six amateur-level fights. The managers of female MMA fighters in those countries look for six easy matches for their fighters. The Iranian organizers can then demand money in exchange for providing those managers with easy opponents.

Although their opponents are real MMA fighters trained by real MMA clubs in their country, these poor Iranian girls are poorly trained and have never seen a real MMA fight. We saw in the video how they get ripped off in horrible underground training battles. Once dropped in the ring, they don’t stand a chance.

A video from a professional MMA fight in Armenia in 2016 shows untrained Iranian fighters, wearing karate uniforms, competing against professional fighters and losing easily.

There are several famous male Iranian MMA fighters, such as Reza Mad Dog, who competed under the Swedish flag, or Amir Ali Akbari, who represents Iran. However, the sport was still illegal, even for men, until April 3, 2021. MMA remains only allowed for men in Iran.

Behzad Majidi continues:

The Iranian Martial Arts Association Federation is directly responsible for this situation, banning Iranian women from having real MMA clubs and federations. If there was an organized, transparent, controlled club – as there are for many other women’s sports in Iran – we could prevent this kind of fraud.

We have no professional female MMA fighters in Iran. Unfortunately, there are many women on social media who claim to be professional MMA fighters, but they all lie to make money, sell workout programs, diet plans or private training sessions on Instagram.

At the moment there are only a handful of Iranian female fighters. Usually they have a different citizenship and fight for a different country, like Pannie Kianzad, one of the best female MMA fighters in the world who fights for Sweden, or Samin Kamal Beik who lives in Italy.

Young Iranian women – if they really want to be an MMA fighter – have to leave Iran, join a real MMA club, train well, learn and fight in a responsible and respectful environment.