Don’t look Tina Rahimi in the eyes.
It’s how she’ll bring you down.
“I walk in [the boxing ring] and I feel like a lion,” Australia’s featherweight (57kg) champion told ABC Sport.
“I look [my opponent] deep into their eyes and I try to see how they look at me to see if they’ve got any fear.
The 26-year-old from Sydney’s south-west laughs when she talks about her intimidation tactics, but don’t be fooled by appearances. She’s the real deal.
From fitness to fight club
Rahimi is currently in Turkey, preparing for her first appearance at the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships.
Five years ago, she was simply hitting the pads for fun at her local gym.
She started out in women-only boxing classes but, after seeing a friend fight, her path was set.
“I dedicated myself, started running more, started eating healthier. And in 2018 in February, I had my first fight,” she said.
Her nerves almost de-railed that initial bout.
She was overwhelmed, bawling her eyes out just minutes before she was due to enter the ring, and she started questioning everything.
Rahimi felt the pressure of standing out, of being different.
Born in Australia to Iranian parents, the Muslim fighter wears a hijab, long sleeves and tights in the ring.
“I’m not really masculine, so I don’t look like a boxer. So I’m like, ‘everyone’s gonna look at me, and they’re gonna judge me.’
“But once I jumped in there, I felt amazing. I just did my thing and won my first fight.”
Support from a higher power
There have been plenty more wins since that first, nervous introduction.
She claimed the national featherweight title earlier this year, earning her selection for the World Championships and July’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Boxers find inspiration in all different forms and for Rahimi, it’s her faith that fires her up come fight time.
“I pray, I ask God to make me victorious,” she said.
“I listen to Qur’an, and I like to get really spiritual before I get in there and pray that God helps me and then keeps both me and my opponent safe.”
During Ramadan, which ended last week, Rahimi’s commitment was clear.
She fasted during daylight, meaning she was waking up every day around 3am to go for a run, then, after breaking her fast in the evening, she’d do another session.
But she doesn’t see it as a sacrifice.
Finding sisterhood at Brotherhood Boxn
Rahimi trains at Brotherhood Box Club in Greenacre, in Sydney’s south-west.
Her coach, Muhummad Alyatim, established the gym in 2010 to provide the local community with a safe place to let loose, rather than turning to crime and violence.
“We started mainly working on the teenagers, older men who were involved in gangs, to sort out the shootings that were happening in the south-western region,” Alyatim said.
“There’s been great progress. Now there’s a bit more understanding before they go around guns blazing.”
It’s also more than a boxing gym — while the fighting happens upstairs, the faith is fostered downstairs in the masjid (place of worship).
“You get people who have problems within their lives, and they can’t come upstairs and deal with them, so we’ll take them downstairs,” Alyatim said.
While Brotherhood is the name, Rahimi’s presence has been embraced by the community they’ve created.
She’s one of few women who attends but she commands respect.
“She brought the intensity of wanting to train, that pushes myself, pushes the other coaches and really sets the standard for the younger boys,” Alyatim said.
“It was a shock to me at the start. But coming from a female, it’s an awesome type of character you can bring to a gym, because it makes them feel that there’s equal rights right there.”
Proving the doubters wrong with gold
Rahimi was balancing her boxing career alongside other priorities, including her job as a make-up artist.
She’s now focused on the sport full-time — training, fighting, and coaching to feed her desire to be the best.
“I have a lot of support, a lot of people believe in me, but then [there are] also a lot of people who I feel still doubt me,” she said.
Not that it bothers her, or makes her self-belief waver heading into the World Championships.
Rahimi also acknowledges the significance of being the first female Muslim boxer to represent Australia at a Commonwealth Games.
“I’m getting all this attention for that and I think it’s great, it inspires other female Muslim boxers to take on the sport and it should really boost their confidence as well.”
Her coach doesn’t want the recent interest in his star pupil to distract from the main aim.
“It’s all mind games now, how you can prepare yourself mentally,” Alyatim said.
“How you can obviously control yourself through the media, through the fame that comes with that.
Rahimi is eyeing off the big prizes on offer this year but in the distance, the lure of turning pro and a world title shot is there, waiting, when she’s ready for her next move.
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