Ruqsana Begum is one of Britain’s few female Muslim professional boxers and also this country’s first female Muslim British and world Muay Thai champion.
36-years-old from Bethnal Green, London, Begum was a British and World Kickboxing Association female atomweight (48-50kg) Muay Thai champion. Trained by Bill Judd out of the KO Gym in Bethnal Green, she claimed the world title in 2016. She now operates at super-flyweight in the pro boxing ranks, since January 2016 when she signed contracts with Joe Joyce's managers, Sam Jones and Adam Moralee, and became their first client since forming S-JAM Boxing.
She spoke exclusively to British Boxing News about her journey as a groundbreaking fighter, covered in her recently released autobiography 'Born Fighter':
Why the switch from Muay Thai to boxing now?
"I achieved what I needed to in Muay Thai. It was a 10-year journey and I accomplished everything I set out to and the challenge wasn’t there anymore. I realised I needed to evolve and boxing gave me that platform. Also, being female in a male-dominated sport I could inspire so many women from all backgrounds.
My younger brother talked about Amir Khan being a role model for the Asian community and there was no one like that to inspire women, also every child needs a champion. All of this really resonated. I thought to myself, it’s not about the destination it’s about the journey so let me embark on this journey to see where it takes me."
Was your move to boxing well received by people of your faith, gender, and even male boxers?
"I would say it was. Not that I did it to be validated because when you take a certain path and you have faith, it leads you to your destination. You are not doing it for validation but to make a difference in people’s lives.
As the first female Muslim British professional boxer, I am taking a leap into the unknown and it is making a difference and changing the face of boxing."
How did you link up with David Haye?
"I messaged Joe Joyce’s manager, Sam Jones, and he was excited about the fact that I was already a world champion in one sport and saw I had transferable skills. He introduced me to David Haye, who was inspired by the way I had overcome so many obstacles in my journey, and wanted to sign me.
While in LA, on our first trip to our training camp, I did actually ask David why he had signed me. He said the fact I overcame all those obstacles showed I had inner strength - particularly after I revealed my career choice to my parents and they could have rejected everything. Also, I came from humble beginnings, and that was something David could relate to."
Were you able to easily transfer your fighting skills from Muay Thai to boxing and how have you found the transition?
"I love all this; I love the fact I am constantly taking a leap of faith. After my first fight, my coach Ismael Salas told me I had the fighter's instinct because I showed it in that fight, even though I had less than two months training, which doesn't even give you the basics of boxing. I still had Muay Thai patterns embedded in me.
I completely underestimated boxing, in that sense, because it is a totally different sport - in mentality, discipline and rhythm and I needed to transition. Right now, I have transitioned much better than I had done two months into boxing.
I have enjoyed the journey. There have been ups and downs but you appreciate the moments you overcome challenges and come out the other end."
The 'Warrior Princess' had her professional boxing debut on March 17, 2018 on a Hayemaker Promotions event at the York Hall, but had to settle for a draw with Bulgarian Ivanka Ivanova (1-3). The pair rematched in June 2019, but the 33-year-old travelling opponent from Sofia, now with 14 fights experience, managed to outpoint Begum 37-39.
How’s your lockdown training going?
"It's been great. Initially, I did panic because of the gym closures. This is my profession and I need to stay sharp - I need this mentally, emotionally and spiritually. When you’ve had this all your life and it comes to a standstill it can be detrimental to your mental health but where there’s a will there's a way and I have managed to train outdoors in the Olympic Park and I’m enjoying it."