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How English Superstar Iman Barlow Became Muay Thai’s ‘Pretty Killer’

Mar 9, 2022

From the very beginning, Iman Barlow was bred for martial arts success.

The English striker – who will make her ONE Championship debut against Daniela Lopez at ONE: LIGHTS OUT this Friday, 11 March – has Muay Thai running through her veins and a stunning 94-6-3 (1 NC) record as a professional.

Now, the 28-year-old is ready to showcase her skills on the biggest stage as she goes for gold in ONE’s strawweight ranks.

Before she steps inside the Circle at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, get to know the pound-for-pound superstar known as “Pretty Killer.”

Born Into Muay Thai

It’s impossible to separate Barlow’s early life from her passion for martial arts.

She was born and raised in the small English town of Melton Mowbray, where cheese and pies are the most notable exports – although the Barlow family’s Muay Thai resume doesn’t clock in far behind. 

Her parents were both heavily involved in “the art of eight limbs,” as father Mark ran the Assassins Muay Thai gym in their back garden and mother Maxine was one of the club’s leading champions.

This meant Iman was immersed in the sport, while she was closely followed by her younger brother, Thai, who is also a professional fighter.

“My mum and dad used to take me down to the gym as a baby. My dad was teaching, and my mum was training, and I would sit and play with my toys.

“I started training at two-and-a-half. When I was old enough, I just started copying and joining in. You know the saying, ‘monkey see, monkey do.’ Well, that was it, really.”

Iman Barlow on her beginnings in martial arts

While the constant was always Muay Thai, Barlow was also a good student and found success in other sports, though she always came back to her roots. 

“I used to be into horse riding and things like that, and I was always quite a sporty kid, but when there was a time I had to pick, it was always Thai boxing,” she recalls.  

“I was a keen runner and used to do all sorts of races. If I wasn’t fighting, I’d be all over the country doing cross-country or athletics. It’s not until you’re older that you realize all the time and effort your mum and dad put into you, but that’s what kept me on the right path.”

‘Nothing Fazed Me’

At only the age of 4, Barlow participated in her first interclub Muay Thai competition – and it was full steam ahead from there.

She even competed in Thailand as a young child, and those early ventures meant that no stage was big enough to shake her conviction about forging a successful career in the discipline.

“I think my first fight in Thailand was at the age of 8, and I was having experiences that normal people don’t have. At the age of 12, I fought on the Queen’s Birthday (a public holiday in England), and nothing fazed me.

“I didn’t even realize what a big event it was until after. You’re fighting in the National Park. My dad reckons there were half a million people there! Sometimes the bigger the occasion, the harder you fight, but having that experience makes you deal with nerves better.”

Iman Barlow recalls her unique younger years

By the time she was officially an adult, Barlow was already one of the most highly regarded female strikers in the world.

She’s continued to cement that legacy ever since, winning prestigious titles from the likes of Enfusion, Lion Fight, WBC, and WPMF. 

A Blip In The Road

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but there’s only been one blip on Barlow’s Muay Thai journey – and that pause eventually served as a reason to get back to work. 

She tells ONE Championship:

“When I’d just finished school, I remember I had an argument with my dad, and I actually moved out for a year, went wild, partied, and all that stuff. I think I needed that time out, so I knew what I wanted to do.

“I was doing Thai boxing for so long that I didn’t know if it was what I wanted for myself. Everything had always been so strict, even my diet. As a kid, you eat crap, but I wasn’t given crisps in my packed lunch and things like that. You do kind of question, ‘Why am I different?’”

However, it didn’t take long for the talented athlete to get back on track, and her time away from the sport only galvanized her desire to train and compete. 

“It just got a bit boring so I got back into Thai boxing and from then on I was just better and stronger than ever. Not just physically but also mentally,” she says. 

“I had that year out and regrouped and realized that it was what I wanted to do with myself. When I came back to training, I was about 10 or 15 kilos heavier. I was out of breath on the pad straight away. It was scary, but it did me the world of good, and here I am now.”

‘This Is Everything I’ve Been Working Towards’

Barlow arrived in ONE Championship as one of the pound-for-pound greats in women’s Muay Thai, and she wants to continue that ascent in her promotional debut.

She’s already inspired many with her skills and courage inside the ring, and now, she’ll have the opportunity to reach an even wider audience around the world. 

“I just want to do bigger and better things constantly. Obviously, I want to win, but I just want to achieve everything that can be achieved while I still can. I just want to show other people that whatever you want to do, it can be done. It doesn’t matter if you’re a female or a male – we’re all doing the same thing and we’re all working hard.”

Barlow on her ambitions in ONE Championship

The Melton Mowbray native can’t wait to step inside the Circle for the first time this Friday, and she plans on putting all the years of hard work and sacrifice on full display. 

“I’d like to have a round-three stoppage so I can showcase my skills in round one and round two. That’s all I wanna do – just show what I’m about,” she adds. 

“I’ve been working so hard in the gym that it almost feels like a dream that I’m going to be in that Circle soon. When the referee, says, ‘Fight,’ I’ll be like, ‘Right, this is the time. This is everything I’ve been working towards.’”

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