The Saudi Mixed Martial Arts Federation has “started to build a new women’s history in MMA” with twenty-four women participating in Saudi’s first introductory seminar for women in Jeddah on 24 – 25 June. The purpose of the symposium, entitled “Introduction to MMA”, was to provide education and guidance for women wishing to develop their careers as athletes and coaches in the sport.
CEO of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts Federation, Abdullah Alhazzaa, commented, “This is just the start of our plans to improve the sport, especially for women in Saudi Arabia.”
Most of the attendees were Saudi women selected for their special interest in martial arts, either coming from a background in Muay Thai or karate, or as physical education teachers or university students. For the women attending from the striking combat sports, their motivation was to gain an overview of grappling, cage control and to learn more about MMA rules, with some very interested in competing. For the university students and PE teachers, the appeal was to find out more about potential career opportunities in MMA. There was a lot of discussion about how they disliked the way in which culture portrays them as weak and soft, their belief that Arab women are the strongest and their desire to prove it to the world.
This seminar was led by UAE-based coach and IMMAF referee, Ghalia Baggiily – Ogden Smith. who presented an overview of MMA, its origins, significance and its rules. The programme addressed the barriers to entry in the sport for women and how they can be tackled and overcome.
REFLECTIONS ON THE SAUDI SEMINAR & THE FUTURE
Reporting on the inaugural Saudi seminar, Baqqily – Ogden Smith, said: “My experience was very positive. I really enjoyed meeting these women. We connected on many levels. The seminar turned out to be very personal. We talked about our challenges, and we shared some individual stories. They appreciated my story as much as I appreciated theirs. We decided to motivate each other to make MMA happen in Saudi [for women]. We all got emotional at times, but I guess emotions can drive us to high places. Places that we never even dreamt of going to.”
Commenting on the future for Saudi Women, she continued:
“The future looks bright but needs a lot of work. The challenges are huge compared with those for other women in the Arab world and they must first surpass those hurdles before they even reach the start line. The change in Saudi is happening fast and if we join hands, we can ride the wave of change and succeed. The Saudi Federation is doing an excellent job but still gym owners need to invest more into MMA and bring in coaches from around the Arab world to help.”
IMMAF Member Services Director Gosha Malik said:
“Every sport encourages the participation of women, but MMA surpasses many in its commitment to promote female participation in all areas of the sport. IMMAF is building a big pool of female coaches on every continent and in every county. There are no barriers within the IMMAF system and sport education is made widely available to all. Women coaches are making their mark in the sport and together we are building the future.”
ABOUT GHALIA BAGGILY – OGDEN SMITH
Baqqily – Ogden Smith started training in Brazilian jiu jitsu in Amman, Jordan, in 2003 when it was still not well known in the region. She received her blue belt from Team Mirza in Jordan, before moving to Dubai, where she trained under Carlos Santos, Suyan Quiroz and Olavo Abrue to attain her purple belt in 2008, making her the first Arab Female to achieve the accolade in BJJ.
“I was actually kicked out of one the dojos in Dubai for being a woman,” she recalls. “I was not allowed to compete in any regional competition as it was illegal for women to compete then. I received a lot of criticism as an Arab woman for practising this full-contact sport.”
Baggily – Ogden Smith moved to Lebanon in 2009 only to discover that there were no BJJ schools there, so she started her own team, inviting coaches at her own expense, holding seminars, demonstrations and free classes, including through pregnancy. By the time she left Lebanon, her team was affiliated with Atos, she had purple belts among her students and had been awarded her brown belt, setting a new precedent for Arab women. Continuing to train in the UAE, she eventually received her back belt from Team Mirza in Jordan in 2018. From BJJ, Baqqily – Ogden Smith went on to certify as an MMA Judge under the Association of Boxing Commissions and trained as an official under Marc Goddard to become certified under IMMAF. Today, as well as being an MMA official, Baggily – Ogden Smith continues to coach BJJ to children and is working to integrate an anti-bullying program.