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Meet the 18-year-old Muay Thai champion who dreams of being the ‘toughest woman in Australia’

Don’t be fooled by the party photos. Dig deeper into Alma Juniku’s Instagram account and you’ll soon realise you might just have discovered the toughest woman in Australia.

‘I guess I’m not supposed to say this but I discovered I just love hitting people,’ the laughing 18-year-old told FEMAIL. 

‘Put me in a fight and it’s like I just turn into someone else. I still remember my first fight. I copped a lot of head kicks, which was pretty funny, I was getting whiplash. But it was fun, I just wanted to come back for more. 

‘Afterwards I was like “I want to do this for the rest of my life”.’

 

Don’t be fooled by the party photos. Dig deeper into Alma Juniku’s Instagram account and you’ll soon realise you might just have discovered the toughest woman in Australia

The Logan City, Queensland, raised fighter is a rising star in the rough and tumble world of Muay Thai kick boxing

The Logan City, Queensland, raised fighter is a rising star in the rough and tumble world of Muay Thai kick boxing

Juniku was just nine years old that first time and knew little about the sport that this week has her on the brink of international fame and fortune.

On Saturday night in Shanghai, Juniku faces Thai sensation Stamp Fairtex for the Atomweight Muay Thai World Title promoted by the Singapore-based ONE Championship organisation, arguably the largest combat sports promotion in the world.

‘Being signed by ONE is a huge boost for my career,’ she said. ‘They get a lot of attention and have a lot of great fighters. It really takes things to the next level.’

The Logan City, Queensland, raised fighter is a rising star in the rough and tumble world of Muay Thai kick boxing, the ancient martial art that has in recent years emerged from the dusty regional gyms and raucous stadiums of Thailand to become the exercise of choice for millennials the world over.

Juniku's father Afrim Juniku (left of left) was a professional footballer who played for Brisbane City and instilled in his children a love of sports that resonated most deeply with Alma, the youngest of three

At first she was happy following in her father's footsteps, with her heart set on joining the modern generation of Aussie girls who have fallen in love with soccer

Juniku’s father Afrim Juniku (left of left) was a professional footballer who played for Brisbane City and instilled in his children a love of sports that resonated most deeply with Alma, the youngest of three

'I guess I'm not supposed to say this but I discovered I just love hitting people,' the laughing 18-year-old told FEMAIL

In fitness clubs, everywhere, the 'art of eight limbs' – as Muay Thai is known - is taught as a way to get fit, quick, and to tone bodies to the edge of perfection

‘I guess I’m not supposed to say this but I discovered I just love hitting people,’ the laughing 18-year-old told FEMAIL

In fitness clubs, everywhere, the ‘art of eight limbs’ – as Muay Thai is known – is taught as a way to get fit, quick, and to tone bodies to the edge of perfection.

‘It just keeps you fit and it keeps you healthy. It has kept me out of trouble and taught me many things like how to handle life,’ she said. 

‘There are lots of gyms here with Muay Thai and more and more people are getting interested in training, especially around my age, and even if they don’t fight.’

But those fancy gyms are a long way from the sport’s roots, and from its traditions. 

Back in its homeland, Muay Thai is often seen as escape route for young Thais striving to fight their way out of poverty, as champions become household names and they become rich beyond the wildest dreams of your average citizen.

Juniku comes from a family that knows some degree of hardship, too, her parents having moved to Australia in the 1980s from their native Albania in search of a better life

Juniku has risen through the ranks in regional competitions, after finishing school in 2017 and turning to the fight life full time as fighter and coach at Modern Warrior Muay Thai

Juniku has risen through the ranks in regional competitions, after finishing school in 2017 and turning to the fight life full time as fighter and coach at Modern Warrior Muay Thai

Dedication – and desperation – forges some of the hardest fighters on the planet. Stamp is such a warrior, having left her family’s humble farming traditions in rural Thailand behind and having carved herself a more lucrative career.

But Juniku comes from a family that knows some degree of hardship, too, her parents having moved to Australia in the 1980s from their native Albania in search of a better life.

‘They wanted things to be different for us,’ Juniku said. ‘They just wanted a brighter future.’

Juniku’s father Afrim Juniku was a professional footballer who played for Brisbane City and instilled in his children a love of sports that resonated most deeply with Alma, the youngest of three.

She currently holds the WBC Muay Thai bantamweight world title and the IPCC World Muay Thai bantamweight title. But signing on with the ONE group has taken her game – and her aspirations – to a whole new level

She currently holds the WBC Muay Thai bantamweight world title and the IPCC World Muay Thai bantamweight title. But signing on with the ONE group has taken her game – and her aspirations – to a whole new level

At first she was happy following in her father’s footsteps, with her heart set on joining the modern generation of Aussie girls who have fallen in love with soccer. 

Until, that is, the fateful day when a neighbour suggested Juniku pulled on the Muay Thai gloves for the first time.

‘I just fell in love with it straight away,’ Juniku said. ‘I gave up soccer about a week later. My dad was so disappointed.

‘Down the years I think he saw how good I was going in this sport and I think he kinda got over it but deep down I suspect he still thinks “I really wish she was still playing soccer”.’

Away from the fight game, Juniku offers that her life is 'a bit boring, really' and that she likes to glam things up with the occasional night out with friends

Away from the fight game, Juniku offers that her life is ‘a bit boring, really’ and that she likes to glam things up with the occasional night out with friends

Juniku has risen through the ranks in regional competitions, after finishing school in 2017 and turning to the fight life full time as fighter and coach at Modern Warrior Muay Thai. 

She currently holds the WBC Muay Thai bantamweight world title and the IPCC World Muay Thai bantamweight title. But signing on with the ONE group has taken her game – and her aspirations – to a whole new level.

Unlike most combat sport promotions, ONE combines various fight styles on its cards, promoting mixed martial arts bouts alongside Muay Thai, kick boxing and fights showcasing lesser known martial arts such as lethwei, Myanmar’s unique form of kick boxing. 

Fighters are also encouraged to expand their own skills, and horizons, by crossing codes – as Stamp has done in capturing both ONE’s Muay Thai atomweight word title and its atomweight world kick boxing crown.

Unlike most combat sport promotions, ONE combines various fight styles on its cards, promoting mixed martial arts bouts alongside Muay Thai, kick boxing and fights showcasing lesser known martial arts such as lethwei, Myanmar's unique form of kick boxing

Unlike most combat sport promotions, ONE combines various fight styles on its cards, promoting mixed martial arts bouts alongside Muay Thai, kick boxing and fights showcasing lesser known martial arts such as lethwei, Myanmar’s unique form of kick boxing 

Incredibly, given her still tender years, Juniku has already dabbled in kick boxing, travelling to Zunyi in 2017 to compete in the ‘Legend of Mulan’ competition run by China’s Kunlun Fight promotion.

Despite having never competed in the sport before, Juniku’s progress in the tournament was only stopped when she came up against Chinese sensation Zhang ‘Magnum’ Weili, a fighter who has since turned her attention to mixed martial arts and is now set for a world title shot of her own in the UFC, the world’s premier MMA organisation.

‘I didn’t win but I went toe-to-toe with her and I loved that,’ Juniku said.

‘That was my first K1 [kickboxing] fight so I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I learned a lot. To see how far she has gone now makes me feel really good. I was only 17 then and look at her now.’

Juniku is under no illusions about the task at hand come Saturday, against a fighter whose reputation is built on her fearsome fighting skills

Juniku is under no illusions about the task at hand come Saturday, against a fighter whose reputation is built on her fearsome fighting skills

On Saturday night in Shanghai, Juniku faces Thai sensation Stamp Fairtex for the Atomweight Muay Thai World Title promoted by the Singapore-based ONE Championship organisation, arguably the largest combat sports promotion in the world

On Saturday night in Shanghai, Juniku faces Thai sensation Stamp Fairtex for the Atomweight Muay Thai World Title promoted by the Singapore-based ONE Championship organisation, arguably the largest combat sports promotion in the world

Away from the fight game, Juniku offers that her life is ‘a bit boring, really’ and that she likes to glam things up with the occasional night out with friends. 

‘It’s nice to dress up and get away from the sweat of the gym,’ she said. ‘You have to take a break sometimes. My friends are really supportive – they think fighting is scary but cool.’

Juniku is under no illusions about the task at hand come Saturday, against a fighter whose reputation is built on her fearsome fighting skills. 

But the teenager has been comfortable preparing for her moment of truth in this vast Chinese metropolis, with daily workouts, combined with chillout sessions with her every-expanding Instagram community.

‘Overall she is a really, really good fighter,’ Juniku said of her opponent.

‘She’s stronger, she’s technical and I think it will be a good fight. I’ll give it everything I have. I feel fit and strong and I’m pretty excited.

‘Now I just have to go out there and do my thing.’

Fans in Australia can watch Alma Juniku’s title shot on Saturday night for free by downloading the ONE Championship Super App

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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