Don’t look Tina Rahimi in the eye.
That’s how she brings you down.
“I’m walking in [the boxing ring] and I feel like a lion,” the Australian featherweight champion (57 kg) told ABC Sport.
“I watch [my opponent] deep into their eyes and I try to see how they look at me to see if they are scared.
The 26-year-old from south-west Sydney smiles when she talks about her harassment 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 hit the pads at her local gym just for fun.
She started out in female-only boxing classes, but after watching a friend fight, her path was set.
“I put in my effort, started running more, started eating healthier. And in February 2018 I had my first fight,” she said.
Her nerves nearly derailed that first fight.
She was overwhelmed, cried her eyes out for a few minutes before entering the ring, and began to question everything.
Rahimi felt the pressure to stand out, to be different.
Born in Australia to Iranian parents, the Muslim fighter wears a hijab, long sleeves and tights in the ring.
“I’m not really manly, so I don’t look like a boxer. So I’m like, ‘Everyone is going to look at me, and they’re going to judge me.’
“But once I jumped in, I felt great. I just did my thing and won my first fight.”
Supporting a higher power
Many more victories have been won since that first, nervous introduction.
She claimed the national featherweight title earlier this year, earning her roster for the World Championships and Commonwealth Games in July in Birmingham.
Boxers find inspiration in all different forms and for Rahimi it’s her faith that wakes her up when it’s time to fight.
“I pray, I ask God to let me be victorious,” she said.
“I listen to the Quran and I like to get really spiritual before going in there and praying that God help me and then keep both me and my opponent safe.”
During Ramadan, which ended last week, Rahimi’s commitment was clear.
She fasted during the day, meaning she woke up around 3am every day to go for a run, and after breaking her fast at night, she did another session.
But she doesn’t see it as a sacrifice.
Finding Sisterhood at Brotherhood Boxn
Rahimi trains at Brotherhood Boxn Club in Greenacre, south west Sydney.
Her coach, Muhummad Alyatim, founded 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 working mainly on the teenagers, older men who were involved in gangs, to solve the shootings in the southwestern region,” Alyatim said.
“Great progress has been made. Now there is a little more understanding before they go around with firearms.”
It’s also more than a boxing gym – while the fighting takes place upstairs, the faith is nurtured downstairs in the masjid (place of worship).
“You have people who have problems in their lives, and they can’t come up to solve them, so we take them down,” Alyatim said.
Although Brotherhood is the name, Rahimi’s presence has been embraced by the community they have created.
She is one of the few women who attend, 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 guys,” Alyatim said.
“It was a shock to me at first. But because it comes from a woman, it’s a great type of character that you can bring to a gym because it makes them feel like there’s equal rights there.”
Proving the doubters wrong with gold
Rahimi balanced her boxing career among other priorities, including her job as a makeup artist.
She is now focused on the sport full-time – training, fighting and coaching to fuel her desire to be the best.
“I have a lot of support, a lot of people believe in me, but then [there are] many people I feel still doubt me,” she said.
Not that it bothers her, or shakes her confidence on her way to the World Championships.
Rahimi also recognizes the importance of being the first female Muslim boxer to represent Australia at a Commonwealth Games.
“That’s what I get all this attention for and I love it. It inspires other Muslim female boxers to get into the sport and it should also boost their confidence.”
Her coach doesn’t want recent interest in his star student to distract from the main goal.
“It’s all brain games now, how to prepare mentally,” Alyatim said.
“How you can naturally control yourself through the media, through the familiarity that goes with it.
Rahimi is looking forward to the big prizes on offer this year, but in the distance the temptation to turn pro and a shot at a world title awaits when she’s ready for her next move.
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