‘A fighter second, a woman first’: MMA fighter Anita Karim is dreaming big and inspiring others to do the same

‘A fighter second, a woman first’: MMA fighter Anita Karim is dreaming big and inspiring others to do the same

Karim wants girls to know that "they are not supporting characters in someone else’s story; they are complete individuals on their own".
Updated 04 Mar, 2024

“The sweat dripped down my forehead, stinging my eyes as I fought to catch my breath. I couldn’t believe it. I had Anita on the ground, my legs wrapped around her — a position that had spelled victory countless times before — or so I thought. This was it; I was seconds away from defeating the undefeatable,” recalled a Jiu-Jitsu fighter facing Karim in the ring.

“But before I could even stabilise myself in that dominating position, she slipped through my grasp in a way so tactful, I was left feeling stunned and envious all at once. She knew exactly where to strike — each step calculated, each movement precise.

“Then it happened. I felt a sharp pain shoot through my arm as she effortlessly took control of it. She raised her hip, positioning herself to execute the final blow, and in that moment, I tapped out,” said the fighter from the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) community, who was Karim’s opponent at a match held at the Islamabad Open in November 2018.

She said that before the match she received a piece of advice from a higher belt, “There is this girl Anita — you will know when you see her — and if she gets your arm, you tap out.” It was only after fighting Karim that she understood why he said what he said.

Meet the champion

Hailing from Karimabad in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Hunza Valley, Anita Karim may well be Pakistan’s first international female Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter. She’s certainly its most successful.

MMA, known for its thrilling combination of wrestling and boxing, is gaining global popularity as a full-contact sport. Despite it being predominantly male-centric, Karim has made her mark internationally, defying expectations in this challenging arena. She currently lives in Thailand, where she competes and triumphs in various national and international bouts.

Her achievements speak volumes. She clinched seven gold and one silver medal at the Pakistan Grappling Challenge (PGC) 2017–2018. In 2019, she won against Gita Suharsono in her One Warrior Series 4 (OWS) bout, subsequently receiving Rs100,000 from then Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman and a shield from GB Governor Raja Jalal Hussain Maqpoon. She also defeated Marie Ruumet in OWS 10 in 2020.

Be your own powerhouse

During a conversation with Images, Karim wasn’t keen on discussing her impressive accolades or titles; instead, she passionately spoke about the meaningful impact she hopes to achieve through her accomplishments. She was happy to describe herself as a “fighter second and a woman first” — hoping to pave the way for young girls with unconventional dreams to fearlessly pursue their paths, just like her.

One of her goals is to increase opportunities for aspiring female MMA fighters in her hometown, who are just as talented and hold similar ambitions but fall prey to society’s expectation that they conform to traditional gender roles.

“Women are conditioned to lead their lives following a mechanical trajectory that leaves them little room to explore their own identities. From a young age, their paths are carefully laid out before them like well-worn scripts,” she lamented.

She added that education is often viewed as a means to an end, a stepping stone to a certain level deemed acceptable by society. Beyond this point, the focus shifts from academic achievement to preparation for marriage and motherhood. “Women are groomed to fulfil their roles as daughters, wives, and mothers, their dreams relegated to the sidelines, and their worth measured by their ability to meet societal expectations that dictate them to prioritise family over personal ambitions,” she said.

Karim, a prime example of someone who dared to defy the script, wants other girls to know that they are not supporting characters in someone else’s story — they are complete individuals on their own, they are their own powerhouse. With a heartfelt nod to her rock-solid support system — her parents and brothers who push her in all her endeavours — Karim acknowledged that familial support is a rare privilege for many young girls in Pakistan.

However, her advice for those facing a lonely road remains the same. “Sure, not having people cheer you on can feel alienating, like you’re on a solo mission, but if you have a dream, grab it with both hands and never let go. Believe in yourself and watch the universe rally behind you. It’s about owning your journey, trusting your gut, and rewriting the rules of your own game,” she stressed.

Beyond the ring

When asked about the impact of MMA on her life, she said, “MMA isn’t just about throwing punches or grappling in the ring; it’s about preparing for life’s toughest challenges. Firstly, it instills self-confidence that radiates in every aspect of your being. Secondly, it equips you with the invaluable skill of self-defence, transforming fear into fearlessness.”

“Personally, MMA has been my lifeline, pulling me out of the depths of depression and empowering me to navigate the world with newfound assurance. Whether walking the streets alone at night or facing unexpected dangers, my training has become my shield. I have moved to Thailand alone and while other challenges abound, safety is no longer a pressing concern. I know exactly how to defend myself.”

A recent report from the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment revealed that there were 5,008 registered cases of harassment between 2018 and 2022 in Pakistan. As per the report, 32 per cent of women experience violence in gender-based crimes, while 40pc of married women encounter harassment.

In a country where these statistics are commonplace, it becomes even more crucial for women to know the basics of self-defence and MMA provides more than just physical strength; it imparts strategic intelligence.

“From utilising a dupatta to items in their purse, every object becomes a potential weapon in the hands of a skilled fighter, empowering women to defend themselves effectively in unforeseen situations,” she added.

The ‘Anita’ generation

Discussing her plans for the future, Karim said, “When it comes to MMA, my eyes are set on the championship belt. As for my other endeavours, I’ve got a few things brewing, but I don’t want to jinx anything yet. One thing is for sure though; I will open up a gym for women where they can unleash their potential, and hopefully, I can coach these passionate fighters to international stardom.”

Once confined to male participants in its early stages, MMA has since evolved into a sport embraced by a diverse audience, that transcends both geographical borders and traditional gender barriers. Yet, Karim stands out not only as a pioneer for Pakistani women in the sport but also embodies resilience. Her journey from the valleys of Karimabad to the competitive arenas of international MMA showcases her unwavering determination to break stereotypes and inspire change.

The ‘Anita’ story illustrates that if she can, so can you. This is evident in story recounted by the Jiu-Jitsu fighter who was thrashed by Karim.

Initially embarrassed, the defeated opponent felt immense fury. However, she admitted that “beneath it all, was a raging desire to be like Anita”.

“And if I work hard enough, perhaps one day I could stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Anita Karim. And that’s the dream,” she said.

Karim’s impact echoes beyond the ring — she’s a living testament to the power within every woman. Her story challenges us to embrace our strength, rewrite our narratives, and boldly claim our space in a world that too often tries to silence us.

Header image: Anita Karim/Instagram

This March, Images is profiling trailblazing women who are, in their own ways big or small, stirring change in our society. Women who inspire us and women who make us proud. You can read all our stories on inspiring Pakistani women here.

Trailblazers and change makers


Taj Ahmad Mar 04, 2024 05:44pm
Strong lady, wish her all good luck and success in future.
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Obeyd Khan Mar 04, 2024 06:39pm
Awesome to see martial arts grow in Pakistan. BJJ is one of the most fun and useful martial arts out there.
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Ehsan Mar 04, 2024 07:44pm
Wow, amazing to read about such focused dedicated leader
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Imran A. Mar 05, 2024 01:00am
Amazing to see her skills. Respect!
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MBA Mar 05, 2024 06:12am
Fly Robin Fly. Up up in the Sky. Wish you all the best on field and in life. Keep shining like a sun for ladies in our country.
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shyam Mar 05, 2024 09:57am
Love the way she talks, love the way she pursuits. Role model to all our daughters.
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Faizan Sohail Mar 05, 2024 04:26pm
Very engaging. Hope Pakistan has more and more female MMA fighters
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Hamna Mir Mar 06, 2024 11:47am
Wow... So inspiring to see she is not only a good fighter but is motivating other girls too
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