Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Jessica Mouneimne knocked substance abuse out of her life and is now determined to help other women in difficult situations.
Jessica, who lives in the Cape Town CBD, had a tough childhood and was exposed to drug abuse from a young age.
It was while working as a waitress as a teenager that she started attending gym sessions at an MMA gym owned by renowned trainer, Michael Mouneimne. The 33-year-old Brazillian jiu jitsu specialist is now married to Mike and they have two children.
She assists Michael in the running of African Pride Fighting Academy, in Hope Street, Gardens, which has produced EFC fighters and SA boxing champions.
She says she started training as a way to stay fit but it changed her life for the better.
Whenever she thought of getting her next drug fix, she would turn her attention to the gym and use all her energy up on the punching bags. She joined the Brazillian jiu jitsu amateur ranks seven years ago and started competing immediately.
“I started doing Muay Thai when I was 18, when I met Mike, and I used to attend the gym that he used to open in the evening on a part-time basis.
“But even then it was not competitive, I later got married and had kids so I went back to the gym just to stay in shape and reclaim my body and fitness.
“But more than that, I was battling drug addiction. When I was 21, I got off drugs and alcohol and training played a big part in helping me live a healthy lifestyle.
“During the last 15 years there have been times when I have relapsed and coming back to training has always kept me on the straight and narrow. I always tell people that starting jiu jitsu saved my life.”
Jessica continues making her mark in the amateur ranks but says age is not on her side, so turning pro might be a step too far. Even so, she is not counting it out and thinks even one fight in the elite ranks of MMA would help her feel that she has achieved her goals.
For now her main focus is using her MMA skills to help raise funds in support of various organisations.
Last month she was involved in the main fight of a Women’s Day charity event, Warrior Womxn staged by African Pride Fighting Promotion. The proceeds of the tournament went to Rape Crisis and the SAME foundation.
“SAME foundation was raising funds for a Khayelitsha hospital and the proceeds they got from the event went to the psychiatric ward of the hospital.
“And I don’t think there is any woman in this country that won’t have a story to tell about sexual assault so for me raising funds towards Rape Crisis was a great task for us,” she said.
During the tournament, Jessica took on Heika Herselman, winning via TKO in the first round. The tournament included 10 fights with boxing and MMA.
Jessica is also planning to fight in an amateur fighting promotion, Professional Fighting Championships in October, to raise more funds for charity.
She would like to see more women turning professional in MMA and going on to make a living from it.
“In international fight promotions, women are now on the main cards and are doing well. I would like to see more local fighters also making it in big promotions.
“The only concern is that there is a big jump from the amateur scene to pro in South Africa and our amateur scene is not competitive enough to prepare them for that jump to pro.”
She believes South African women can change the MMA scene by continuing to work hard in the amateur ranks.
“It takes time and passion for people to develop and now in our gym we have six or seven competitive fighters from boxing to Muay Thai and MMA and the more events like the one we did (Warrior Womxm) the more they will develop a passion for the sport.”