Nadia Kassem, who fights out of Australian Top Team (ATT), is the latest Aussie prospect to sign the dotted line, inking a deal with the UFC earlier this week.
The Western Sydney local made her professional debut in 2015 and has had an immediate impact on the local MMA scene crushing all four of her opponents within the first round. It would seem that her nickname ‘187’, which is the police code for murder, is fitting for this rising star and she doesn’t shy away from it.
“I don’t like seeing girls go out there and hug each other for three rounds. I want to bang. I’m all about going 100% from the start. I’m not there to play marbles; I’m there to knock a bitch out. I want to hurt you and you want to hurt me. This is what we train for,” Kassem told Fight News Australia.
Kassem is the second ATT fighter in a matter of months to be signed to the world’s biggest promotion with coach Ashkan Mokhtarian set to make his debut at UFC Auckland in June. Kassem joined the notorious gym three and a half years ago after watching her brother train and compete in grappling tournaments and immediately felt at home.
“ATT is a family. They’re not there for your money; they genuinely want to make you a better person and fighter – whatever your ambition is. They were always very welcoming. I had done taekwondo when I was younger but I got bored due to the lack of contact. I also did stuff like rugby and softball to get the aggression out but it wasn’t for me. When I walked into the gym at ATT I knew I had found my calling.”
Whilst only 21, Kassem has grown up a lot quicker than most. Exposed at an early age to domestic violence, she was forced to play the second-mum role to her younger brother to ensure he was taken care of and avoided the chaos of an often conflict ridden household. It was an experience in her life that she admits thrust her into adulthood but in retrospect prepared her for opportunities that other people her age may not be ready for.
“Anytime I’ve ever done anything big in my life I haven’t been ready for it. Life is about how you adjust to things that come your way and my life has been a series of adjustments – fighting for the UFC will be another one. There’s no way to ever really be ready for anything, you’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way.”
The opportunity in this instance is a multi-fight contract with the UFC with a fight announcement at 115lb (52kg) imminent. Although Kassem has fought at both flyweight and strawweight professionally she is confident she can assert her authority in the lower weight class.
“I know for sure I can dominate at 115lb. Most girls don’t cut as much weight as I do so I feel that gives me an advantage. I diet hard, I train hard and I know that I put the weight back on really fast after the cut which gives me good size and more power in my hands.”
An opponent is yet to be named for the Aussie’s first bout but Kassem is excited to get back into the mix and throw down, especially given her take on the current state of women’s MMA locally.
“I’ve called out girls here in Australia and no one wants to fight me. I had two choices – go up in weight or fight internationally – and here we are.”
For the most part Kassem goes into the next chapter of her life with the support of her family and friends, despite the unorthodox path she has taken. Interestingly it is her mother that has thrown her weight behind her daughter’s career – her father opting to voice his dislike for the “crude and barbaric sport’’ in which she participates. For Kassem however it matters little noting only that she does this for herself and not for him.
That support and encouragement also comes from coach Suman Mokhtarian who just also happens to be her boyfriend, making for an interesting dynamic in and outside of the gym.
“It can be crazy at times but it’s also really cool. At first…I’ll be honest, it did take its toll on our relationship, because we didn’t have boundaries and I would get upset sometimes if he was being hard on me at training or bossing me around. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older though, and my career has progressed, that we are better at keeping our gym life and personal life separate and it works really well.”
Kassem’s career my only just be breaking through but she has her eyes set firmly on the future, a dominant career much like that of her idol Ronda Rousey.
“Before I started training I watched TUF with Rousey and (Miesha) Tate and it got me really interested in MMA. Rousey has always been special to me in the way she carried herself and her dominance early on in her career. I would very much like to have a career like hers.”
It would appear she is on the path to doing just that.