By Ross Patterson
The first MMA Zambia Symposium took place in Lusaka on November 25-28th and has gone down as a massive success. The conference was attended by the current Bellator Featherweight champion, Cris Cyborg, who flew in especially for the event.
There were workshops on referees and judging, cutmen courses, a lecture on contract law, social media management and how to gain sponsorship, as well as beginner and advanced MMA classes. MMA Zambia ran Anti-Bullying in Schools and Female Self-Defence programmes.
The women’s national MMA commission was also launched, which will look to encourage more Zambian women and girls into the sport of MMA. Additionally, the Vulnerable Youth programme was piloted, which “uses sport and MMA as a metaphor for life lessons and [raises] awareness on topics including gender-based violence, drugs and alcohol abuse, mental health, and other issues which affect disadvantaged children.”
Cris Cyborg, one of the greatest female mixed martial artists of all time, was in attendance. She gave a key-note speech followed by a Q&A, and helped to launch the Women’s Commission. Cris shared some insight into how hard mixed martial artists have to work: “I train every day like a job… I like to run before the sun comes up… Then get breakfast and train 10-12 am, then I train again around 5-6… sometimes 6-8:30 pm.”
When an audience member asked her advice for upcomers and females, especially in Africa? She responded: “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. And for MMA getting bigger in Africa, I think it needs more people like Ben.”
Benjamin Bush is the President of the MMAZ (Mixed Martial Arts Zambia). He was integral to the success of the Symposium. He was delighted at Cris Cyborg’s attendance, commenting: “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.”
Rob Simbowe also attended. Rob is a professional mixed martial artist, competing with EFC in South Africa. He became an orphan at age 9, and lived on the streets for 4 years until he was taken in by the Fountain of Hope Orphanage. He returned to the orphanage, and donated a significant amount out of his own pocket. Benjamin said: “ I was moved to tears when he was explaining his life story to the girls in the dormitory – I think they must have been between the ages of 6-12, maybe 6-14, talking to them about tips for life and how to get ahead. It was really moving. It was really something special.”
Ben added: “All-in-all, it was a massive success… without IMMAF and MMASA (Mixed Martial Arts South Africa), we would be nowhere… we can’t thank you guys enough.I’m all about using the sport for positive social change, creating role models, and creating a platform for athletes to achieve their dreams through IMMAF, which is one of the best platforms in the world, in sports, period.”
Commenting on her support for the event, Cris Cyborg said:
“For me, it’s important I really get out of my comfort zone to challenge my mind to help me grow in my career and personal life. Every time I win my fight and my titles, I never feel like I’m defending my belt, I always feel like I’m fighting for it, even after 13 years. That’s how I stay strong. Everyone always tells me, “Cris, I’m gonna take your belt” but it doesn’t worry me because, well I’m going to take my belt too because I have the mindset for it. I’m always learning in my sport and as a person and try to never stop being humble, to share my faith with the world and everyone around me, to give back to the community through teaching female fighters who are coming up, without a lot of experience, that they can do this too even though it’s never gonna be easy…but that doesn’t mean we should stop and give up.
“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.”