By Michael Clifton
Jenni Kivioja knows about pressure. Whether it is the pressure to perform, keep up with her studies, or stay on top of her work schedule, the Finnish fighter — who also has a 13-year-old son — understands the importance of dealing with pressure and creating balance in her life.
It is no easy feat when juggling so many plates. However, the 33-year-old, who is in the final stages of preparation for the IMMAF European Championships, has proven herself to be an expert in the art of time management.
“The biggest challenge is to find time for my training. It’s hard to balance between all my schedules. Three years ago, I quit my job and started studying to have more time for training. Now I’m back at work [in youth services], but I’m able to determine my shifts, ” Kivioja says. “There are many parts of my week that I need to schedule. It is hard, but I don’t want to miss anything. I want to live to the fullest.”
Kivioja burst onto the international scene in 2018 when she captured silver in the featherweight division at the IMMAF World Championships and picked up the Green Hill Performance of the Year award following her spectacular knockout of Sweden’s Jessica Forslund Reis at the European Open.
Since then, she has become one of her country’s most decorated amateur fighters, with her most recent international outing seeing her collect silver at the 2020 IMMAF Oceania Championships. What makes her achievements more impressive is that, at age 25, she began training in MMA later than most of her competitors and without a background in martial arts.
“I was competing as a dancer just before I started MMA, and I had a back injury, so I fell off from the team. We were supposed to go to the Finnish championships. I quit dancing for half a year, and then I saw a beginners class in MMA, and I was like, now is the time to try that, and here we are. Straight away, I liked MMA so much, so I started doing MMA. Of course, I love dancing, and I would love to do that when I get older, and I can’t compete in MMA, but now it’s time for MMA.”
When she began training in MMA, the thought that she could one day represent Finland never crossed Kivioja’s mind. Yet, the more hours she spent on the mats, the better she became, and eventually, she reached a stage in her career where it came time to progress from domestic to international competition.
“I knew that I would compete in Finland but never thought I would go abroad for international competitions, so it was a surprise, and of course, I was 25 when I started MMA, which is quite old. So I did not expect that,” she says. “If I can describe all my IMMAF fights, I have loved them. I am always very peaceful when I am entering the cage, and I feel happy and privileged. It is one of my favorite things.”
Kivioja is in the final year of a Bachelor of Sports degree, and after her MMA career comes to an end, she aims to help the next generation of Finnish athletes harness their talents: “I would love to coach younger girls and boys, and motivate athletes after my career has ended.”
The following months will be a whirlwind for Kivioja. Alongside the European Championships, there is the possibility of her competing too at the IMMAF World Championships in November in Kazakhstan. She will also finish her degree in December. Thankfully, she has a strong network of friends and teammates helping her out.
“I feel supported in many ways. We have a shared training schedule with our Sisu team. It helps a lot to have training partners. We also arrange sparring and workouts together with local fighters in Lahti. My boss is very flexible with my work shifts, so I’m able to train as hard as isneeded. “
Kivioja has given a lot to MMA, but when discussing what MMA means to her, it is apparent that she has also gained a lot from the sport.
“MMA has made me mentally and physically stronger, so it has positive effects in every area of my life. I feel confident and peaceful in my mind. MMA has taught me to be compassionate to myself. There’s no negative self-talk, and I respect myself more.”
- In December, she will graduate with a Bachelor of Sports
- She fights under the Sisu Gym banner and her trainer Sami Mehamedi, is also Team Finland’s head coach.
- Kivioja is the highest-ranked Finn in IMMAF’s senior pound-for-pound list.