By Jasmin Osman
At IMMAF not only are we celebrating International Women’s Day, but we’re also celebrating the third anniversary of the launch of the IMMAF Women’s Commission. To join in the celebrations, we spoke to the Chairperson of the IMMAF Women’s Commission Hayzia Bellem. Before joining the IMMAF, Hayzia was a member of the French MMA Commission (CFMMA) and had been approached to lead the IMMAF Women’s Commission.
Four years ago, Hayzia felt excited and was extremely enthusiastic for this opportunity. She couldn’t wait to meet as many people as she could to convince them to focus on women’s participation in sports and to raise awareness.
“For a long time, the IMMAF had the strong conviction that it was a priority to have a Commission dedicated to the promotion of gender equality in sports. I felt more than honored to have the opportunity to support this initiative and to be chosen by the IMMAF to chair this Commission. I started sports when I was 28 so a career in sports was not possible—it was too late for me. But still, I wanted to engage in sports so I took this great opportunity to lead this commission. I want MMA to grow and gather a bigger community.”
Hayzia was introduced to the world of combat sports through French boxing and has been dedicated to the development of women’s MMA even before becoming Chairperson. When asked if she had any advice for young women wanting to join the world of MMA, she had this to say:
“Be strong and stay true to your ethics. It is a very male-oriented world and it can be tough. Keep your loved ones around you to encourage you even during difficult times and know that there is room for you and for women like you here.”
Over the pandemic period, things were tough. Hayzia describes 2021 as especially complicated and exhausting, especially due to having to run things remotely.
“I was (still) working very hard and at the same time, I wanted to take advantage of the pandemic period to convince national federations around the world to focus on the development of women in MMA, how to engage in best practices, etc. Working exclusively remotely can be frustrating. But I wanted to focus on the period after Covid—I want to remain optimistic.”
As one of the key members pushing for equality within the industry, Hayzia recognizes that there is still lots to do. But despite the hardships, she hopes for a bright future for the world of MMA.
“I hope we will see more balance in the number of fights on fight cards between men and women’s fights. The other major hope I have is to see gender equality in pay. Even big MMA organizations struggle to reach this goal but I hope that we will achieve this within 5 years.”
Ultimately, Hayzia hope that mixed martial arts can become a more broadly available sport—not only for adults, but for children in schools too:
“I also hope MMA can be available as a school sport in many countries. Sports are important when you are young. And martial arts teaches you to be determined, different behaviors and how to respect one another.”