The real scam behind Iran’s underground female MMA fights

On May 27, a video of what appears to be a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fight between two women began to make the rounds on Iranian social media. The match, which took place in the suburbs of Tehran, caught the attention of many. It was the first time that an underground MMA fight – forbidden for women in the Islamic Republic – was caught on tape. But according to our Observer, this video actually shows a widespread scam taking advantage of female MMA hopefuls. 

A video published on May 27, 2021 on Telegram shows an underground female MMA fight in Iran.
A video published on May 27, 2021 on Telegram shows an underground female MMA fight in Iran. © Observers

Just like underground female bodybuilding competitions or ballet dancing, these female MMA tournaments are kept under wraps but well known among sportsmen and journalists in Iran. Now, for the first time, a video of this phenomenon was released. 

The video, which according to our Observer was filmed in Shahriar, a suburb of Iran’s capital Tehran, shows two women fighting MMA-style in a boxing ring located in what seems to be a private villa. We hear two other women coaching the fighters as well as a man who advises the referee on what to do.

A video published on May 27 on Telegram shows an underground female MMA fight in Iran.
A video published on May 27 on Telegram shows an underground female MMA fight in Iran. © Observers

In the less than two-minute video published on May 27 on Telegram in Iran, two Iranian women can be seen in a MMA fight. Neither of the women is wearing the headscarf. Some men and women watch the fight as two women coach the fighters.

This MMA fight appears to be the latest example of women pushing the boundaries of the Islamic Republic’s bans on certain activities for women, whether in public or as a part of Iran’s underground scene

Yet, according to our Observers and experts inside and outside of Iran, this video actually depicts a deep scam targeting fearless Iranian women who are hoping to become professional MMA fighters.

‘It’s a scam. These women are victims’

Behzad Majidi is an Iranian sports blogger based in Switzerland who covers MMA fighting, notably Iranian fighters.

Maybe at first glance this video might make us happy, even proud, to see Iranian women who are trying to push the boundaries in the Islamic Republic. But at second look, it actually shows a sad, complex scam to which these women have fallen victim.

You can see the scam in the video. There are two levels for MMA fights: amateur and professional. What we’re seeing in this video is supposed to be a professional-level fight, because the women aren’t wearing protection on their heads and legs [Editor’s note: professional MMA fighters do not wear protective gear during matches]. But these women are fighting at an amateur level.

According to Behzad Majidi, the actions of the two fighters make it clear that they are amateurs: 

At the amateur level, fighters are not allowed to perform certain techniques, or to hit their adversary when they are down. But in this video, the women hit each other even when they have fallen. 

It’s clear they have no idea what they are doing and that they are beginners. Their coaches are also beginners and have no idea how to train them. As we can hear in the video, even the referee is a beginner: a man is coaching the referee on how to move, where to look, and what to check for during the fight. 

The fight took place in a villa in Shahriar, a suburb in the southwest of Tehran a few weeks ago [Editor’s note: local media in Iran also confirms the location of this event].

Our Observer, well acquainted with the field of MMA in Iran, believes the women in this video are, like others, the victims of a fraudulent con:

The organisers of these underground fights are three men who have special connections with Iran’s Martial Arts Association Federation, making them untouchable.

What they are doing in reality has nothing to do with the sport; they’re not trying to develop Iranian female MMA fighters. They are just running a lucrative business by scamming these young women.

They ask for money to “prepare” these fighters for a real MMA fight. They lure in these young women by telling them, if they win their fights, they can earn lots of money in fights organised abroad by signing contracts with famous organisations, like the Russian “ACA” [Editor’s note: Absolute Championship Akhmat, a leading martial arts organisation]. 

They rig the fights in Iran between beginner girls, choosing some of them. The selected girls are sent to neighbouring countries like Armenia or Georgia, to compete with real MMA fighters. 

The real scam is here: anyone who wants to fight in a professional championship needs to have done around six fights at the amateur level. The managers of female MMA fighters in those countries look for six easy matches for their fighters. The Iranian organisers can then ask for money in exchange for providing easy adversaries to those managers. 

While their opponents are real MMA fighters trained by proper MMA clubs in their countries, these poor Iranian girls are poorly trained and have never seen a real MMA fight. We saw in the video how they are scammed in appalling underground training fights. Once they’re dropped in the ring, they won’t stand a chance. 

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A video of a professional MMA fight in Armenia in 2016 shows untrained Iranian fighters, wearing karate uniforms, going up against professional fighters, and losing easily.

There are several famous male Iranian MMA fighters, such as Reza Mad Dog, who competed under the Swedish flag, or Amir Ali Akbari, representing Iran. However, the sport was still illegal, even for men, until April 3, 2021. MMA remains authorised only for men in Iran.

Behzad Majidi continues:

The Iranian Martial Arts Association Federation is directly responsible for this situation, by banning Iranian women from having proper MMA clubs and federations. If there was an organised, transparent, surveilled club – like exists for many other sports for women in Iran – we could avoid this kind of fraud.

We don’t have any professional female MMA fighters in Iran. Unfortunately, there are many women on social media who claim they are professional MMA fighters, but they all lie to earn money, selling exercise programs, diet plans, or private training sessions on Instagram.

Right now, there are only a handful of Iranian female fighters. Usually they have another citizenship and fight for another country, such as Pannie Kianzad, one of the best MMA female fighters in the world fighting for Sweden, or Samin Kamal Beik who lives in Italy. 

Young Iranian women – if they really want to be an MMA fighter – need to leave Iran, subscribe to a real MMA club, train well, learn and fight in a responsible and respectful environment.