Alma Juniku is already a Muay Thai World Champion and role model to many individuals across the globe at just 18 years old, but her star can shine even brighter if she were to claim the richest prize in the sport next weekend.
As the teenage sensation prepares for battle at the Baoshan Arena in Shanghai, China, she reflects on her path to the gold. In fact, she has pushed through doubt and even ridicule to reach this point in her career.
When she was a young girl first getting into Muay Thai, other school kids targeted Juniku for her choice of sport.
“[My sister and I] didn’t know if it was a sport for girls, but we tried it out and it was fun. Ever since then, we fell in love,” she explains.
“I got a little bit teased and bullied about [doing Muay Thai] in school. At one point, I was a bit embarrassed because I thought everyone was laughing about it. I was so passionate about it, and they didn’t take it seriously.”
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Juniku did not bow down to the peer pressure. The detractors only strengthened her resolve.
The teenager wanted to prove them wrong, so she committed herself to “the art of eight limbs” until they could no longer deny her success.
Now that she is competing in the world’s largest martial arts organization, the Aussie wants to be a beacon of hope for other young people — particularly young girls — who may feel similar resistance in their chosen endeavors.
“That’s what drove me to make something out of it — because of the people who just thought I wasn’t good, or they thought they would just say [things to me] every time I walked by,” the Logan City native reveals.
“I knew in the long run I would be successful from it, so being mocked about fighting and training definitely pushed me to be better and prove everyone wrong.”
Juniku looked to other successful females in the sport for strength and inspiration.
One of those females was her compatriot Caley Reece, a multi-time Muay Thai World Champion who once defeated Tiffany van Soest for the Lion Fight Women’s Featherweight World Title.
The teenager watched the local hero’s incredible rise through the sport and viewed her as the perfect role model.
“When I was younger, I really looked up to Caley Reece as a fighter,” the ONE World Title challenger says. “She was a multiple-time World Champion and owns her own gym, so I really wanted to be like her.”
In many ways, Juniku has become quite similar to her Muay Thai idol.
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Now a WBC and IPCC Muay Thai World Champion, Juniku has become one of the leading women athletes in her sport and finds herself giving motivation to the next generation of up-and-coming female martial artists.
“[I met] a little girl called Imogen, who was nine years old. Her father brought her to train with me. They traveled an hour, and she said that she really looked up to me,” Juniku recalls.
“She wrote me a letter, too. It was pretty sweet, so it makes me feel good that what I do pushes her to make herself a good fighter.
“It makes me feel really good that I get to inspire young females to chase after their dreams.”
Having experienced derision at school for her desire to compete in Muay Thai, the Aussie knows exactly how important it is to have a role model to look up to, and one that you can see yourself in.
For young girls who don’t want to be stereotyped because of their love for a certain sport, having someone like Juniku to model themselves after can help them remain comfortable in their own skin.
“I do such a manly sport, but I want people to see that I’m still sweet and feminine,” she says.
“I want people, females in particular, to know that they can do a tough sport but still have that girly side, and that they are not being judged and looked at like they’re manly.
“I hope to inspire young women so they can chase after their dreams. Whether it’s fighting or anything they want, just go for it.”
Shanghai | 15 June | 4:45PM | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onequest19