“There’s something that’s quite interesting when you get hit in the face,” says Jessica Mouneimne. “My husband, who’s my coach, says this all the time: ‘Once you get punched in the face, you know, this is for me or it’s not for me.’” We can assume that it was for Jessica, the pro-MMA fighter with two wins under her belt. “I realized that I’m pretty tough and that it wasn’t as scary as what I thought,” she says.
The mother of two started boxing first to lose weight and get fit. Her then-boyfriend (now husband) and coach introduced her to the sport. “I never imagined I would be fighting professionally, let alone be in the top tier rankings,” says Jessica. After competing as an amateur, Jessica decided to go pro last year. As of the time of writing, Jessica remains undefeated. But it hasn’t come without a fight.
Why take up MMA?
“A lot of it comes down to your mental fortitude,” says Jessica. Each bout in the ring lasts five minutes, which is nothing when you’re jamming to a song, but excruciatingly long when you’re in the ring with someone who’d love nothing more than to tear you down.
Take her one fight, hard-won. She was injured and her opponent had succeeded in landing multiple kicks to her legs. “I was thinking, ‘All these people just came all the way to come and watch and this is what they’ve come to watch: you lose.’ I just basically had to bite down on my gum guard and go, ‘You need to pull yourself together now.’ Whatever it is that works for you in that moment, that’s a pep talk.” Looking to up your resilience? Here’s your sport.
“I realized that I’m pretty tough and that it wasn’t as scary as what I thought.”Jessica moineimne
Find your leverage
While Jessica is a formidable fighter, her opponents are much younger. Talking sports-wise, age is always a factor in competitions. “I’ve turned 36 this year, which is old by professional athlete standards,” she says. But Jessica’s got her own edge: her body’s only been in the MMA game for three years. “My body doesn’t have that kind of wear and tear on it that an athlete that’s been fighting for 10 years has,” she says.
“I physically don’t feel intimidated because I’ve seen what I’m capable of when I put the work in. And I think the age gives me a level of wisdom and maturity to be able to handle the scary stuff a little bit better.”
MMA is growing for women, both in South Africa and internationally. At Jessica’s last fight, her opponent was flown in from Egypt, making the stakes in the sport that much higher – and more exciting. Of course, this comes with more pressure, but also, with something to look forward to. “When I set out on this journey it was as a hobby simply because I loved the sport,” says Jessica. “If I’m honest with myself I think I was playing small to a degree to avoid disappointments. I am finally embracing that there really is benefit in playing small and that having the audacity to reach for your dreams is the only way to live a truly authentic life.” Now, Jessica’s goals are even bigger: to be crowned the EFC Worldwide strawweight champion and be the number one female fighter in Africa.
Follow Jess on IG: @_gi_jess_
Michelle is a freelance writer at WH, passionate about all things health, fitness and mental wellness. She’s also an avid surfer and recently discovered skateboarding as a viable means of transport. Skate dates, anyone?