Belleview wrestler Helsel finishes second at state

Staff reports

Published: Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 12:09 a.m.

ORLANDO — Belleview High School's Ashley Helsel took second place in the 112-pound weight bracket in Orlando at the girls state wrestling championship.
Helsel wrestled in 4 matches winning her first 3 then losing her final match to a split decision.

Helsel quickly pinned her first two opponents and beat her third by the judges' decision. However, in a split decision, she lost her fourth match.

forest wrestling: The Forest wrestling team placed runner-up in the Orange Park Duels ending their regular season at 11-8. The Wildcats beat Fleming Island 34-46, Bradford 72-6 and Camden County 57-24 but lost to Orange Park 23-45. Forest will travel to Winter Springs Feb. 6 for Districts.

Individual Results: 112—Thomas Keith, 3 wins, 1 loss; 125—Joshua Keith, 4-0; 130—George Byrd, 3-1; 140—Randy Albany, 3-1; 152—Ethan Pittman, 4-0; 215—Zach Prine, 3-1; 285—Ricky Carter, 4-0.

New Mexico

Pan Am hosts youth wrestling tourney

By Jason Groves/Sun-News reporter 
Posted: 01/24/2010 12:00:00 AM MST

Keilan Guillermo, a female wrestler of team Bliss,... (Photo for the Sun-News by Robin Zielinski)

LAS CRUCES — Alexia Romero hopes to continue wrestling until she's "at least 12."

Romero was one of approximately 730 youth wrestlers who competed in the New Mexico National Showdown tournament at the Pan American Center on Saturday.

Romero reached the consolation semifinals of the 80-pound bracket in the rookie 10-12 year old age division.

Saturday's tournament provided the Valley View fourth grader with more competition than she is typically used to. But she didn't mind.

"I like that I don't spend a lot of time wrestling other girls," she said.

Wrestlers on Saturday ranged from six to 15 and there were several classes based on experience and skill level.

Romero's club team, the North Valley Trojans, were one of 28 clubs that competed. Teams and individuals from New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Texas and Utah came to the Pan Am.

But Romero came to continue competing in the sport that she has fallen in love with.

"My cousin Marissa wrestled and I wanted to try it out and I loved it so I kept wrestling," Romero said.

North Valley Trojans coach Mike Sullivan's club entered 31 wrestlers in Saturday's tournament. Through Saturday's early rounds, the Trojans had three first-place finishers in Maeceo Rodriguez, Parker Moranville and JC Mendez.

The Trojans and other local clubs spend their weekends competing in El Paso and Silver City from November through February.

"We want to provide a positive activity for kids and promote the sport in the area," said Sullivan, who has coached the club since 1998. "Our goal is to teach the kids the fundamentals."

Saturday's tournament was the first time the Rocky Mountain National series held an event in New Mexico.

"Baseball and softball have regional or national tournaments in Las Cruces," Sullivan said. "It's great to have something on the regional or national level in wrestling. I appreciate them for coming down here and the effort from all the youth clubs in town."

Tournament director Ed Desbain said the Denver based Rocky Mountain National series liked Las Cruces as a destination to host one of the 18 tournaments the series organizes.

"We looked at the market and it felt right to do it here," Desbain said. "The Better Business Bureau reached out to us. We knew that going as low in New Mexico, with the right facility, we could draw a lot of Texas teams."

Wrestlers competed for a belt or a medal depending on where they placed. They wrestled for other reasons as well.

For 14-year-old Raven Lara, he wanted to stay in shape.

"I am in my third year wrestling," said Lara, who wrestled for third in his bracket. "It's really athletic and I play sports year around so it's good for staying in shape."

Kramer Moore was one of 25 wrestlers from the Las Cruces Youth club in the tournament.

Moore won the fifth-place match in his bracket 15-9. Moore wrestles at the club level to improve for high school, where he wrestles at the junior varsity level at Las Cruces High.

"I'm just here to have fun," he said. "I'm on the (LCHS) team right now but I want to get stronger for next year."

Jason Groves can be reached at jgroves@lcsun-news.com; (575) 541-5459


WRESTLING: San Gabriel Valley girls lead way at Southern Regional

By John Honell, Correspondent

Posted: 01/23/2010 10:14:26 PM PST

COVINA - The San Gabriel Valley lived up to its reputation as the birthplace of girls high school wrestling at the 2010 CIF Girls Southern Regional on Friday and Saturday at Northview High School.

West Covina had two individual champions in Samantha Ortiz at 114 pounds and Alyssa Luna (118). West Covina, Northview and Baldwin Park finished third, fourth and sixth, respectively, in the team standings as Pacifica edged Pioneer Valley, 177-176, for first place.

The event is the unofficial CIF State Championship for Southern California. Next year's event will serve as a qualifier in which the top eight finishers in each weight class advance to a state meet against schools from Northern California.

Ortiz, only a sophomore, won her match by fall at 3:03 over Cynthia Sanchez of Pioneer Valley. Ortiz is 18-0 against girls this year and just won the Monrovia boys frosh-soph tournament two weeks ago.

"I used a double-wing move to get the pin," Ortiz said. "My dad is a coach and I've wanted this forever."

Luna, a junior, entered the tournament with a 20-0 record against girls. She dominated her match until she pinned Amri Mojica of Lancaster for the 118-pound title.

"I knew I could do it," Luna said. "I didn't place the last two years so I just dedicated my life to this all year long and it paid off."

The Bulldogs had five other placers in Justine Stewart at 98 pounds, Siobahn Esquerra (108), Jessica Vasquez (132), Brenda Gonzalez (189) and Marie Ramirez (235).

Sergio Ortiz, a graduate of Baldwin Park High School, is the father of Samantha and has been an assistant at West Covina for the last five years.

"It's a great feeling to have Samantha win," he said. "I work with both boys and girls. They all work hard.

"The only differences are the girls seem to wear their feelings (on their sleeves) a lot more and they smell better."

Northview didn't have an individual champion but did have two runners-up in Valerie Hernandez at 235 pounds and Brazel Marquez at 122. Other medalists included Vanessa Gomez at 103 pounds and Joanna Navarro (126).

Baldwin Park, which has made major strides in girls wrestling in the last few years, boasted medalists in Daisy Mendez at 118 pounds, Natahalie Altamiranos (122) and Vanessa Gonzalez (132).

"We placed three girls," Baldwin Park coach Raul Tapia said. "That is better than expected, but it was really exciting to have all 11 here on the second day."

"The level of female wrestling has grown," Northview coach and tournament director David Ochoa said. "Girls don't compete in boys meets so much anymore. We have our own girls teams and there is a a full schedule of girls tournaments.

"There are a lot of opportunities for girls to get college scholarships as there are new college programs starting every year."

Other local medalists included Jessica Maag of Covina at 126 pounds, Brianna Munoz of San Dimas and Veronica Lopez of Bassett at 138, Ashley Montellano, a 165-pounder from Diamond Ranch and Angie Lazcano of South Hills and Angelica Curiel of South El Monte at 235.


Righetti H.S. Girls Wrestling videos
New York

Tim Jean/ Staff photo. Whittiers Shannon Constantine, right, battles against Brooklines Jerry Phok during the Haverhill Wrestling Tournament at Haverhill High School. Saturday, January 9, 2010
Tim Jean/ Staff photo. Whittiers Shannon Constantine, right, battles against Brooklines Jerry Phok during the Haverhill Wrestling Tournament at Haverhill High School. Saturday, January 9, 2010

Surging Central Catholic captures Cup Lower weights lead way for unbeaten Raiders

Whittier captured two of three in a home quad-meet with its only loss a 42-39 setback to Billerica. Jake Tannian remained on a roll with three wins at 160, Amesbury's Nick Predki was 3-0 at 171 and Steve Surette was 3-0 at 152.

Shannon Constantine took three forfeits at 103 even though two teams had opponents who could have gone on the mat.

For Haverhill, which was 0-2 on the day, Paris Williams (130), Isaiah Williams (189) and heavyweight Terrance Jean-Jacques all won both of their matches.

Lawrence wins 3 of 4 meets

Local records:

103: Shannon Constantine (W) 3-0; 112: Travis Yell (W) 2-1; 125: Shane Surette (W) 2-1; 130: Paris Williams (H) 2-0, George Katsaros (W) 2-1; 145: Jake Morton (W) 2-1; 152: Steve Surette (W) 3-0; 160: Jake Tannian (W) 3-0; 171: Nick Predki (W) 3-0; 189: Isaiah Williams (H) 2-0; 215: Jared Shennet (W) 3-0; HVY: Terrance Jean-Jacques (H) 2-0


Martians second at 15-team tourney


Goodrich’s Kristi Garr (103 lbs.) at the Lapeer West quad last week.Goodrich’s Kristi Garr (103 lbs.) at the Lapeer West quad last week. HARTLAND — In an event where the host school took the championship with a whopping 293 points, the only question was which squad would win the race for second place at last Saturday’s Hartland Invitational, a spot the Goodrich varsity wrestling team claimed with a score of 125.5. Coming in third for the day was Belleville at 122, followed by Bay City Central (114.5), Lake Fenton (113), Petoskey (97.5), Fenton (77), Lapeer East (75.5), Ann Arbor Pioneer (71.5), Fruitport (71), Hartland B (65), Allen Park (61), Fowlerville (39), Grosse Pointe North (31.5) and Plainwell (29).

The Martians wound up with three titlists for the tournament, including Kristi Garr, who had two byes before pinning Hartland B’s Devon Chalut in 3:53 and outlasting Hartland’s Alec Bain 3-1 to secure herself a first-place finish. For Parker Lovell (171), his road to glory was littered with a lot more obstacles, sticking Bay City Central’s Mike Meeth in 2:57 and Hartland B’s Garrett Mackey in :35, before taking consecutive 11-4 decisions over Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Justin Pose and Petoskey’s Zach Marihugh.

Taking Goodrich’s other first-place finish was Jarred LaBelle (189), posting 15-0, 7- 6, and 3-0 decisons over Allen Park’s Tyler Hill, Fruitport’s Travis Chorny and Hartland’s Sean Wright after dismissing Nick Long of Hartland B in 73 seconds. Not far behind for the Martians was Evan Grzecki (125), beating Belleville’s Casey O’Keefe, 10- 2, and Bay City Central’s Tyler Lemke in 3:31 before losing to Hartland’s Nick Monitz, 11-3, to come in second.

Cody Petit (119) was also among the placers for Goodrich, coming in fourth with losses to Belleville’s Brendan Papin and Fruitport’s Tyler Pastor after besting Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Keegan Pape in 91 seconds and Hartland’s Keith Boldt, 13-11. With a secondround loss to Fruitport’s David Juarez in 5:27 after a roundone bye, Bryce Montgomery (140) was the Martians’ final championship represenative, getting the better of Bellville’s Canter Sherman, Allen Park’s Brad Ferguson and Belleville’s Kyle Skotak to the tune of 5-0, 10-1, and 5-0.

With the win, Hartland moved up from the on-deck circle and took over the top spot in Div. 1, according to michigangrappler.com. The site also lists several Martians among the top 10 individuals for their respective Div. 3 weight classes, including LaBelle, who holds the fifth spot at 189 lbs. as of Dec. 9, 2009. Lovell and Garr are the squad’s other ranked grapplers, holding down the 10th spot at 171 and 103 lbs, respectively.

Goodrich competed last Tuesday at the Rochester Adams quad meet. GRAND BLANC

The Bobcats were at Romeo for a team duals tournament last Saturday, losing to Oxford, 61-9, Richmond, 64- 12, Romeo, 47-24, and Wyandotte Roosevelt, 40-36. Grand Blanc also beat Saginaw, 66-6.

“We are off to a real slow start, but we are hopeful that we will turn things around,” said coach Scott Turnbow “We are searching for some leadership within the team, and a few leaders are beginning to emerge. Hopefully, they will take this team in the right direction.”

On Dec. 9 the Bobcats were at former Big Nine rival Flushing for a quad meet, losing to Bangor John Glenn, 56- 24, but beating Genesee Area Conference rival Byron. The Raiders also lost to John Glenn, 51-21, but defeated Byron, 42-31.

Grand Blanc also has several wrestlers listed in the top 10 for their Div. 1 weight class, including fourth-seeded Jay Banks (103), Christian O’Guinn (130) and Drew Morris (152) are both seventh and Chad Cook (285) came in ninth.

The Bobcats take the mat Saturday at Davison at the Genesee County Invitational

103 - Kristi Garr (Goodrich) DEC 3-1 Alec Bain (Hartland) Video
Goodrich grappler on track to 2012 London Olympics


CC Weber (click for larger version)
December 30, 2009 - Goodrich- At about five-feet tall and just over 100 pounds, CC Weber could easily be overlooked in a crowded room. But given her relentless desire to succeed in Olympic wrestling, an event just a few years ago closed to women, she stands shoulders above many.

Weber, a 2009 Goodrich High School graduate, relocated to Colorado Springs, Colo. last summer and now practices at the U.S. Olympic Training Center while taking classes at the University of Colorado. At the time of the move, Weber was near the top of a short ladder to make the U.S. Olympic Team and compete in the London Summer Games in August 2012. She will wrestle at the 105.5 pound weight (48 Kilos) division.

"I have the ability to do this," said Weber. "I have a lot of work ahead of me and need the two-and-a- half years leading up to the Olympics. You have to believe in yourself and what you can really do."

Weber may already have an edge.

In 2009, Weber defeated 21-year-old Wisconsin native Alyssa Lampe (1-0) and currently, Clarissa Chun, a 28-year-old wrestler from Hawaii who placed fifth in the 2008 Olympics, is injured. Both wrestlers were on the short list of Olympic hopefuls taking aim at April 2012 when the Olympic trials are held.

"Wrestling is 40 percent physical and 60 percent mental," Weber said. "It comes down to who wants it more—when we go out on that mat at this level, physically we can match up—it comes down to the mental edge. The older wrestlers have just been in the game longer. For me, I wrestled boys throughout high school—they may have had the physical edge at the time. Now the transition to all women wrestling was made a lot easier."

Weber, who will turn 19 in March, said as few as 20 colleges in the United States offer women's wrestling programs.

"There are few options out there after high school," said Weber. "Typically, the Olympic team recruits from the college ranks—that's where the majority of athletes come from. But for me, after I left the Goodrich team, to which I was dedicated, I just did not think it would be the same on a college team. So it was time for me to go solo. Why not go to the best team right off—the U.S. team?"

Weber climbed the ranks as a wrestler while attending school in Goodrich and making the junior world team and qualifying for the senior world trials. She was part of two state championship seasons as a Martian, while qualifying for individual state competition three years at Goodrich. She finished with a 58-5 2009 season record and 162-34 for her career at GHS.

She is coached by Terry Steiner, who was named USA Wrestling's full-time National Women's Coach in April 2002, the first in USA Wrestling history. He is responsible for the training of America's elite women freestyle wrestlers, as well as coaching women wrestlers who are involved in the U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete program. For the first time, women's wrestlers competed in the Olympic Games in 2004. Steiner helped lead that Olympic team to one silver and one bronze medal, the second-highest medal count of any nation.

"You are reminded everyday why you are at the OTC. Every single person there is after the same thing. They share the same drive to be the best."

Weber said the athletes are tested for drugs at random and health is monitored by on-staff doctors.

"At the OTC they watch what is going on all the time—they know what cough syrup we are using, but I would do nothing to hurt my chances," she said.

"I still have fun on the weekends," she said. "I go out, but I stay focused. I'm with the best coaches at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and for me that's the place to be."

In March 2008, millions of viewers received their first glimpses of Martian standout grappler Weber, when sports network ESPN chose to feature her, along with teammate Kristi Garr, on "Outside the Lines," an Emmy-winning series that examines sports issues off the playing field.

New York

Pittsford's C.J. Howard wins Monroe County wrestling title

James Johnson • Staff writer • January 24, 2010

Webster Schroeder senior Tanya Kusse was acknowledged as the first girl believed to have earned all-league honors at this meet. She finished sixth in the 119 division.

PREP WRESTLING: Bellingham's Owings, others claim titles at NWC Tournament



Despite Whatcom County's individual success at the tournament, both the girls' and boys' team titles are staying in Skagit County this year. The Sedro-Woolley girls' team dominated, finishing with 194 points to easily win first place. Burlington-Edison was second at 155 and Mount Baker was third with 131 points. On the boys' side the Tigers took first with 193 points to edge Blaine which ended up with 156. Squalicum was third, Sedro-Woolley fourth, and Ferndale fifth.

With the NWC Crossover Duals set for Wednesday and then a weeklong break from tournaments action for most the teams in the conference, Saturday's tourney was the last chance for a lot of wrestlers to get some tournament work in before the postseason.

"We approach this that if our kids are healthy they deserve to step out there and give it their best," said Lynden coach Randy Anderson whose Lions finished sixth as a team and sent four wrestlers to the championship round. "If we're battling some injuries or something then we probably don't put them out there. Other than bragging rights it's a tournament that offers good competition, so we say let's go and wrestle."

Other wrestlers winning titles were Shanli Dillard (130), Jessica Taranenko (171), Nolan Takemura (103), Andrew Reid (135) Justin Santos (145) Pedro Mungarro (160), Justin Korthuis (171), Tim Barron (189), Jeremy Holdaas (215), and Walter Hathaway (285).

Nooksack Valley's Nick Torres was someone who did get bit by an injury. After coming into the tournament with a perfect record he reached the finals at 171-pounds, but had to forfeit after injuring his leg. Squalicum's Andrew Murry was another wrestler who forfeited his title match.

For every tough luck story there was an uplifting one, like Lynden's Elena Gallegos who won her first tournament title at 103 pounds. She usually wrestles on the boys' junior varsity for the Lions, but picked up three pins on her way to the title in the girls' tournament.

"She did a great job," Anderson said. "She's usually wrestling with the boys and I think that's helped her. She really was tremendous today."

Mount Baker's Katie Weide was another wrestler who pinned every opponent she faced at the tournament. Weide pinned Emma Foss of Burlington-Edison in the second round to take the girls' title at 152 pounds.

"This is pretty much just a warm-up for state kind of thing," Weide said. "I think as a team we wanted to get a couple more matches, but that's how it goes sometimes. The good thing is you can get your chances back in the postseason if you don't do so well here."

Northwest Conference Tournament

Girls’ Team Results

1. Sedro-Woolley 194; 2. Burlington-Edison 155; 3. Mount Baker 131; 4. Lynden 45; 5. Mount Vernon 38.5; 6. Squalicum 18, 7. Anacortes 11

Championship finals

103: Elena Gallegos (Lynden) p. Emily Iverson (SW) 2:49 112: Andrea Iverson (SW) p. Ella Salkeld (MB) 1:59. 119: Ricarda Garcia (MV) tech fall. Roxanne Rosas (MB) 16-1. 125: Jessi Kaech (SW) p. Makenzie Pell (B-E) 3:45. 130: Shanli Dillard (MB) p. Chelsea Seidel (SW) 3:48. 135: Haylee Rabenstein (SW) forfeit Jamie Randall (SW). 140: Sarah Moquin (SW) p. Katee Allen (SW) 1:54. 145: Alysia Pohren (SW) forfeit Marree Reed (SW). 152: Katie Weide (MB) p. Emma Foss (B-E) 2:44. 160: Jessica O’Dell (B-E) bye. 171: Jessica Taranenko (MB) bye. 285: Emily Holboy (B-E) p. Makenzi Clark (SW) 1:28.


Prep wrestling: BC's Harcourt, PR's Benale each win third straight girls state titles

It was a banner day for five area wrestlers at the girls state championships at Cypress Creek High in Kissimmee on Saturday, but especially for Barron Collier 103-pounder Kathy Harcourt and Palmetto Ridge’s Carolyn Benale at 135 pounds.

Both senior wrestlers earned state titles for the third consecutive year.

With Bears boys wrestling coach Steve Hart leading the area contingent, Felicita Salazar (125) of Palmetto Ridge, Golden Gate’s Erica Gutierez (135) and Lely’s Ruthie Sentanus (152), all placed among the top five in their divisions.

But for Harcout and Benale, who have become friends over the years, the state titles were special — if not unexpected.

“It’s nice to win,” Harcourt said. “But not as exciting as the first time.”

The duo breezed through their respective weight classes, each winning all four of their matches by pins.

In Benale’s championship match, she pinned her opponent from Orlando-Oakridge in just 58 seconds.

“I was kind of surprised it happened so quickly,” said Benale, who bench presses 115 pounds. “I practice with the boys team every day. I get my strength from wrestling them.”

Despite the victory, Harcourt said her season is far from finished. She has her eyes on another title — the boys state championship. Last year, Harcourt, who has applied to numerous Ivy League schools, made it to the boys regional tournament.

“I want to qualify for the boys state tournament,” she said. “It doesn’t make today any less of an accomplishment. A lot of people would want to be in my shoes.

“Everybody comes here (states) to win, and fortunately it was me.”

Besides becoming friends after traveling three years together to the state tournament, both wrestlers share equal admiration for each other.

“(Kathy’s) really great,” said Benale, who began wrestling in the sixth grade. “She’s such a nice person and is very helpful to all the wrestlers.”

Harcourt has mutual sentiments.

“It’s nice to see another girl work so hard,” she said. “Most girls give it a shot and then give it up. It’s nice to see another woman out here.

“Carolyn shows we can do whatever the boys can, and she’s proved it for the last three years.”

New York
CSI/McCown @ Boys & Girls - Wrestling
CSI/McCown vs. Boys & Girls - Game Preview & News

CSI/McCown drops Boys and Girls, 24-12

, January 23, 2010 4:55 p.m.

CSI/McCown topped host Boys and Girls 24-12 in PSAL action in Brooklyn on Saturday as Chris Cordero broke a 6-6 tie with his win by forfeit in the 119-pound weight class.

After the Dragons lost the first match, Mohammad Mousa pinned Chad Brackenridge in the 112 in 3 minutes, 35 seconds to even the score. After Cordero's go-ahead victory, CSI/McCown maintained its lead but faced trouble after its loss in the 189. Ben Wasserman added an insurance victory in the 215. 

CSI/M takes part in the Mayor's Cup on Sunday. 


Sunday Special | Prep wrestling: She has the right makeup

Lockport's Haley Augello just like most other freshmen, except she wrestles

Special to the Tribune

5:52 p.m. CST, January 23, 2010

Lockport's Haley Augello is like most other high school freshman girls. Well, sort of.

While makeup, hair care and trips to the mall to buy clothes are priorities, Augello also happens to be a starter at 103 pounds on the Porters' highly regarded varsity wrestling team.

"My friends don't think there's anything weird about it," said Augello, who began wrestling when she was 8 years old. "Once I'm on the mat, I'm not a girly-girl. I'm a wrestler."

She almost didn't get that chance.

Her desire to join her younger brother, Sean, at wrestling practice was rebuffed by her parents for the better part of a year. Once they relented, Haley was tutored by her father, Larry, a longtime coach with the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation who wrestled in college at Carthage.

What he and others discovered was that Haley was good. Very good.

Despite her knack for the sport, Augello's participation still hasn't been easy on another interested party: her mother, Wendy.

"There was a lot of hesitancy, mostly from me, because obviously, as a mom, I've always wanted to protect her," Wendy Augello said. "Now it's more emotionally exhausting for me than her. Some of the things I hear in the stands, mostly from other parents, aren't very nice. But she's earned respect from most of the die-hards."

While she admits that she isn't quite "one of the gang," the respect factor is there from her teammates as well. She had to earn her place in the lineup and has acquitted herself very well, going 12-19 against a top-flight schedule.

"It doesn't faze us that she's a girl, because her wrestling speaks for itself," said Lockport junior Jameson Oster, the defending Class 3A 119-pound state champion. "We don't exclude her from anything. Not all freshmen start on varsity, especially on a team like ours."

Foremost among Augello's immediate goals is protecting her spot in the lineup. But she doesn't shy away from her inevitable role as a trailblazer.

"There are a lot of girls out there who think that they can't do this," Augello said. "But I'm proof that it can be done."

The Haley Augello file

High school: Lockport

Class: Freshman

College: Undecided

FYI: Been wrestling since she was 8.

Want to see more?

Check out video of Haley Augello at wrestling practice at chicagotribune.com/prepsplus

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Ladies who punch

Leah Oatway Last Updated: January 24. 2010 4:40PM UAE / January 24. 2010 12:40PM GMT

The professional MMA fighter Tam Khan leads a mixed martial arts class for women at the World Black Belt Centre in Dubai. Amy Leang / The National

Petite, pretty and softly spoken, with flawless skin and perfectly coiffed hair, the participants of Dubai’s first women’s mixed martial arts (MMA) class were not exactly in keeping with the traditional image of female fighters, with not a cornrow braid or tattoo in sight.

And yet on the matted mezzanine floor of a Sheikh Zayed Road apartment block earlier this month, the aforementioned women punched, kicked and “grounded-and-pounded” their way through the first ladies-only session in true fighting style.


Driven by a desire to release aggression, burn calories and build strength in the company of like-minded women, Fatima Rabbani, 27, from Afghanistan, arrived at the TSG Dubai MMA Academy fresh-faced and determined to make it through the instructor Tam Khan’s intense cardiovascular workout.

Khan, an experienced 27-year-old professional MMA fighter from the UK, has pioneered the development of the sport in Dubai since 2008, setting up the UAE branch of TSG (Team Sure Grip) MMA Academy at the World Black Belt Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road.


TSG, which is affiliated with the legendary Royce Gracie fight school, also has branches in London and Italy, and caters to fighters wanting to compete professionally in MMA, boxing, K1 and Muay Thai, as well as for those wishing to improve their fitness and conditioning or learn basic self-defence.

But while martial arts, particularly kick-boxing, has become big business in the women’s fitness industry in recent years, until now the testosterone-charged, tough-guy image of MMA has made all but a handful of women in Dubai nervous about rocking up to a class.

Instead, most women opt for private classes with Khan, which makes it difficult for them to put what they learn into practice.

“It is hard for them to practice certain moves, particularly the grappling floor moves, with a member of the opposite sex,” Khan explained.

“A ladies-only class is an arena they feel more confident in. I can teach in a private lesson, but they don’t get to do the practice.


“Eventually, I would like to train a female instructor.”

Rabbani, who exercises regularly, had decided to attend the first class after watching one of the MMA classes from the sidelines.

“I had watched Tam at his MMA class. One of my friends comes to his class and I saw how good the cardiovascular training was – how hard,” she said.

“I go to the gym and do Body Pump weight classes, Pilates and yoga, but this is obviously something very different. I knew he was a little tough, but that was part of the appeal. Many people have trainers who don’t push them hard enough. I knew he would push me.


“It was just important that I could attend a women-only session.”

MMA is a full-contact multi-discipline sport that uses a range of martial arts, including Muay Thai, boxing, ju-jitsu, wrestling and judo.

While there are professional female MMA fighters around the world, and Khan predicts there will eventually be female fighters in Dubai, he is emphatic that the focus of this ladies’ class is on conditioning and fitness, not contact.


So there will be no hitting each other in the face, then?

“No, not at all,” he said. “I don’t want to scare people off.

“MMA has that hard image. Maybe we can produce the first female MMA fighter in Dubai but that is not what this class is about. You cannot beat an MMA workout. It works almost every muscle group – your core, legs, hips, arms, parts of the body you never knew existed.”

Rabbani has many Emirati friends who also wanted to make the first class but were unable to because of social commitments. They will, she insisted, attend the next class.


Her family are fully supportive of her participation.

“My father’s first question was if it would be all ladies,” she said.

“When I said it would he was fine about it. After all, it is good for my safety, to know how to defend myself.”

The class began gently enough, with participants running around the perimeter of the hall touching the floor with their hands as instructed by Khan.

But the tempo soon changed, as did the sweat-to-smile ratio, as he took the women through an unforgiving series of knee-up jumps, squats, push-ups, sit-ups, sprawls and burpees.


From there it was on to the focus mitts. The women paired up and Khan took them through a series of basic punch combinations incorporating combinations with straight-out flurries to increase the heart rate.

Then came the kick shields for some basic leg work – rib and lower-leg kicks that increased in speed and intensity as the rounds wore on.

After that it was on to basic grappling and knees – something that Khan pointed out could come in handy as a self-defence ploy to fend off male attackers.


The women took it in turns to hold a kick shield while their partner gripped them around the neck and pulled them forward to make contact with the knee. It was tiring but in no way harmful.

Finally, it was on to “ground-and-pound” practice – a tactic that involves taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw, and then when in a dominant position striking the opponent with the fists and elbows.


Today though, it happened minus the throwdown and the women protected their upper bodies with a large kick shield while their partner let out their aggression on the pad.

Embarrassed giggles soon gave way to an unleashing of energy as the women poured what was left of their power reserves into the pads.

Then it was back to running, sit-ups, push-ups and some Pilates moves to build core strength before stretching.


At the end, Nadine Ahmed, a 15-year-old student from Yemen, was tired but happy.

“I was expecting it to be really tough, but I actually found it really entertaining too,” she said.

Ahmed’s brother, a fighter and instructor who trains at TSG, had encouraged her to try the class when she expressed her interest in trying something new and getting fit.

“It is a good way to start exercising,” she said.


“I was tired but I am OK now. I am going to come again.”

The social aspect of the class, she said, was as important as the physical element.

“I wanted to do something that involved being in a group, something that could make you stronger and empower you. It can also help with self-defence.”

For those who like the sound of the calorie-burning (Khan claims it is possible to burn as much as 1,000 calories in an MMA class) but are less interested in the pad work, TSG is also in the final stages of agreeing to an MMA boot camp in conjunction with Fitness O2.


It is yet another avenue for women and men to gain the body, but not the bruises, of a fighter.

“This whole movement is about promoting the fitness side of MMA and making it accessible to everyone,” Khan said.

“It is about pure conditioning so you get the workouts that champions and MMA fighters such as myself use to get in shape before a fight.”

The boot camp is likely to launch while the mixed martial arts champion Royce Gracie is in Dubai for a workshop at the Black Belt Centre on Saturday.



For more information, visit www.mmadubai.ae.