The story of Kheira Sadi is one on which movies are based. The tale of a girl who went from having no one in her corner, to being the corner figure for many women who may find themselves in similar situations. Born in Paris, France, this 28-year old mixed martial artist turned a life of what could be described as one of ‘extreme hardships’ into a positive and inspiring message for not only her 12-year year old daughter, but all women across the globe.
Sadi, bounced around between foster homes and juvenile detention centers before getting pregnant at age 17. She had been a victim of domestic violence, picked up, and moved to a new country without knowing the language. A love for famed boxer Muhammad Ali had inspired her to take up the sport and learn to fend for herself. Now, after a second attempt on education, Sadi is enrolled at Kansas State Univeristy, speaks five languages, works several jobs, and is a figurehead for near teenage daughter. On top of all that she not only trains, but competes as an amateur in MMA. She trains with Markus Barrett and Rico Steele at Rico Steele MMA in Junction City, Kansas.
Father Figure in Muhammad Ali
“I had a very violent childhood, very, very violent, and I was not always able to defend myself. I didn’t have friends. I didn’t have family,” Sadi said. “I was in several foster homes. It was very challenging to grow up where I was. Muhammad Ali was pretty much the only role model I had. I didn’t have a father so I pretty much made him my dad. I would watch videos of him and spend my days reading his biographies. I learned English by myself to be able to understand what he was saying too. It was a rough time then. I was always bulled. People would pick on me. Then I ended up in a very abusive relationship.
“I started to defend myself. Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice. I didn’t. I learned to defend myself. If I did not go through all that, I would not be as motivated. I would not be as self-motivated and resilient as I am. I have a lot of heart and will power to survive. All I needed was technique. The will, the heart, and determination to survive, I had. You cannot teach heart, but you teach technique.”
Getting Back Up From Defeat
“When I got out of foster care, I was homeless at 13 years old. Then I went into juvenile detention and then I had to stop going to school. I got pregnant at 17 years old. I could not finish school. I learned five languages by myself. In Paris I was always working. When I came to America I decided to work part time. At 23 I decided to go back to college. I got my associates degree in Psychology. The first two years I was here I could not speak English. It was very rough sitting in class and not understanding, but I made it. Now I am getting a bachelor’s degree in Modern Languages.”
With jobs as a waitress and also tutoring students in French, Sadi started making the money to provide for her daughter. Now she just needed to achieve her dream of continuing to learn martial arts and work her way into competition.
“I met Jake Lindsey (former UFC fighter), he talked to me about the fights here in America and I really got interested in that because all I knew in France, was boxing. When I came here, MMA and the hype of Ronda Rousey was very new to me. I became very passionate about it,” she said.
“I didn’t have technique, I was very insecure. It took me a while to really get into training because nobody understood my English so I felt I was holding up the class. I would not ask questions because I didn’t want to hold things up. I spent a whole year not learning anything basically because I did not want to bother people.”
Despite not being able to fully understand what was being taught to her, Sadi never gave up. It only made her want to fight more.
“I sparred a few times and realized my technique was really bad, but I wanted to learn. I think Ronda Rousey had to be some kind of influence in my head. I think she was so empowering for all women that she made to try and push myself.
“It’s funny. I hated jiu-jitsu, hated it. It was scary, hurtful, and very technical. You have to have a lot of patience to do it, but now, somehow, I love it. I’m obsessed with jiu-jitsu now. I really want to earn a belt and do tournaments.”
No MMA in France
The sport of mixed martial arts is currently banned in France where Sadi is from. While there are athletes from the country competing in the sport in other areas of the world, legal competition is still off in the distance. Being a native of Paris, Sadi addressed the current state of MMA in her home country.
“We have Francis Ngannou who is in the UFC, but it is very rare to see French fighters. French people have a boxing knowledge. We really love boxing, it’s part of our culture. It’s like soccer for us. I don’t think it should be banned in France. It is a little scary for some of the people there you know? France is always behind America in sports and things like that. America is a little more open. But I think in a year or two it could happen but right now France is not ready. It is not traditional.
“We don’t have guns either. It is very inappropriate for our culture. My father is Lebanese and French. My mother is half French and North African. I am the last person who should be fighting. My mother, the first thing she said when I told her I was going to fight was, ‘Why would you do that to your face?’ I think it says a lot about our culture. If you are willing to stand alone you can fight. I can stand alone so I am doing it.”
“I haven’t done MMA since last February. I’ve been doing a lot of kickboxing. I did not enjoy it. I don’t think I really like it. I was missing the grappling. I just want to take somebody down which I always do in kickboxing (laughs). It is very upsetting to not be able to do that. I lost my first kickboxing match by decision because I wanted to grapple and be scrappy but I couldn’t. Now that I’ve been training jiu-jitsu every single day, I’m excited about taking fights and showing the improvements I have made. Ryan Stoddard, the promoter of Victory Fighting Championship (VFC), did not want to take any woman on his card. For the past year I’ve been bugging him. Then he changed his mind. I put myself out there for February and March. I also have a submission tournament, February 18, and maybe a Muay Thai bout in April but I’m not sure about that because like I said when you start training ground and wrestling, it feels there is something missing in your fight when you only do standup. I feel it is not realistic because in a real fight you are going to take it to the ground at some point. In MMA you can be more scrappy and I like to be very scrappy.”
“I want to make it to the UFC or Bellator. I don’t want to fight just to fight. I want to fight because I have a goal. That requires a lot of training and dedication and also a lot of money. My coach told me that if I fight in the name of his gym and I am really committed then I would not have to pay for it. So, I’ve never missed class.”
“I had three opponents that dropped out from this February 3 (VFC) fight. I will probably find out who I am fighting just a few days before. I never backed out of a fight. I’m not gonna start now.”
“I’m fighting at 125 pounds. I have fought there and at 115 pounds and also at 135 pounds. I wanted to pick the right weight class so I fought at all three. The one I’m very comfortable in is 125 pounds. When I was at 115 pounds, it was horrible. I was weak, tired, very sloppy. When I fought at 135, I fought a girl who used to be about 250 pounds but lost the weight and was my size. But you could tell that she was bigger. I won, but I was like ‘not again, I’m too small.'”
Looks that kill
“People expect fighters to look a certain way. They think I have to look like Cyborg to be a fighter. Look at Paige VanZant or Rachael Ostovich, these are beautiful women and they are fighters. I don’t think how you look is a reflection of your fighting or your skills. It was very, very hard for me to fight here because I was overlooked. Nobody would take me seriously. They all laughed. “You are too pretty to fight,” they would said. They would train me but I could tell they were not invested in me. I am very flattered that people think I am beautiful. I am not going to pretend that I am ugly, I know I am not, but I think it also helps me also because it makes me unique, the fact that I am foreign, that I do look a certain way, it helps me with my promotion. A bad side of it is that people don’t take me seriously. But now I am using it to my advantage. Be confident and be sexy. At first I was insecure and now I just do what I want. I do what is best for me.”
“I want to thank my coaches Markus Barrett and Rico Steele because they never overlooked me. Sometimes I would hear people say things like ‘Kheira, she’s just some bimbo from Europe.’ That was hurtful coming from people you train with. But my coach, he opened his gym for me, taught me things I didn’t know, he even learned some French so he can communicate better with me. I told him that if you dedicate time to me, I will fight for you and I will win. And I did. I am very loyal to them.
Kheira Sadi’s message for all women
“If it wasn’t for my daughter, I wouldn’t be as savage as I am now. I would not be as motivated. She doesn’t have family. She has me, I have her, and that is it. When you only have one person, and you know that person counts on you for everything, for their whole future, it does something to you. Her whole future is based off choices I make. If I make bad choices then my daughter is going to have to pay for it.
“If I could send a message to any young girls that want to stop continuing their education, ‘DON’T. YOU WILL END UP LIKE ME.’ It is very important to learn not to count on others, your family, your good looks, you have to go get it.
“For victims (of domestic violence), you don’t have to always be a victim. You can do anything you want. You can go to a new country, not know the language, and if you really put your mind to it, you can go from being an orphan, a victim, a single mom, anything and become successful and inspiring to other people. Women come to me all the time about my journey, and that is incredible to me, that I am able to inspire others. It’s worth more than money. It makes my heart race.”